26 April 2015

Not quite the spring garden post I'd planned.

I was going to write a totally ordinary spring gardening post. Then, at about 7:30 last night, this happened.

There's really nothing like being inside your house, a foot or two from the back wall, when you hear two gigantic crashing noises in close succession, coming directly from your backyard.

So we went outside and discovered this.

That's our pineapple guava tree.

It had rotted enough at the root for its weight to tear it at ground level. I imagine the first noise was the initial tear and the second was the impact.

This one is foreshortened, but it gives you a much better picture of the breadth of the crown. It spans almost the entire width of the backyard.

Did it hit the house? No. We were super lucky there. But it did get within about a foot of the back door. There are a bunch of branches resting on our meyer lemon tree, right behind the back porch slab. The lemon tree seems okay so far.

Needless to say, this trumps my newly planted seedlings and mole-stolen tomato plants. (This year we suddenly have a mole. I am pretty annoyed about it stealing an entire tomato plant. It was yanked straight down into the ground and the roots eaten entirely. Only a pitiful tuft of leaves were left peeking out through the top of the soil. I was too mad to take pictures. BUT ANYWAY.)

I'm happy not to have to deal with 100 pineapple guavas per day for the entirety of October and November anymore, but otherwise, this is not a great situation. Our backyard is going to be much, much sunnier than it has ever been before, even if our landlord decides to plant a new tree. This could be good for growing sun-loving plants in the back bed, but not so great for the temperature inside the house, and definitely not good for soil moisture retention. And losing this massive crown of flowers is going to be terrible for the pollinators in the neighborhood.

For those of you keeping track, here's the tally of house catastrophes in the past 5 months:

- roof leak
- furnace breakdown
- no heat for a month over the holidays
- refrigerator breakdown
- mold influx
- gigantic fallen tree
- and also we're supposed to be having a full roof replacement soon.


In actual garden news, we have one single solitary volunteer tomato plant this year. It's a Caspian Pink, which is perfect for our partially shaded main bed. I think a couple other guys may be volunteers too, but the location suggests that they're red peppers. That's actually even better, since I didn't buy any red pepper plants and have no intention of starting any at this point. Bell peppers really don't produce that many fruits per plant -- I got four total last year. By contrast, our yearly jalapeño harvest is always gigantic in number, even if the chiles themselves are small. I'm definitely going to keep putting those in as long as we live here.

I got two tomato plants (one of which has officially been eaten by the mole) and two jalapeño plants. I may get a few more tomatoes and plant them up in gallon containers, for strategic mole-outwitting purposes. Otherwise, I think I will start a bunch of green bush beans in the next week or so. I have some scarlet runner beans and cucumbers in the back of my mind too. So it's essentially my usual garden lineup: lots of tomatoes and spice, plus a handful of bits and bobs.

Drought is still a definite and serious concern. I think a dry-farmed tomato experiment might be a good idea. This depends on the moles, though. Any tomatoes in containers are going to need water all summer, and need it seriously.

What is happening in your spring garden? Hopefully nothing this exciting.

14 April 2015

Winter squash polenta with chipotle pinto beans

Winter squash polenta with chipotle pinto beans

I've been thinking about the combination of squash and beans for a few weeks now. Black beans and sweet potato are a natural match in things like enchiladas and black bean-broccoli stuffed sweet potatoes, so why not try a variation with winter squash?

This is just a basic soft polenta with a big whack of delicious, vibrant winter squash puree added in. I still had some previously roasted CSA squash puree in the freezer, so this was the perfect way to finish it up. Of course, there are still two squash on our counter. Those need to get eaten soon too!

Polenta does take a bit of time to make, but it's such a delicious result that I think it's well worth it. The overall result is smooth and comforting, with a subtle sweetness (not to mention a BRIGHT ORANGENESS) from the squash and a hint of contrasting black pepper. And the combination with spicy beans? Yes. The experiment worked.

Wilted dark greens with garlic would be an excellent addition if you want more vegetables. Cilantro would be a great garnish here too.

Winter squash polenta with chipotle pinto beans: polenta and water mix

Winter squash polenta

3 tbsp butter or olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 cups veg broth, water, or a mix
1 cup polenta and 1 cup water, combined
~2 cups winter squash puree
salt and pepper to taste

Melt your butter or oil in a 3-quart or bigger pan on medium heat while you dice your onion finely. Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, or until nice and fragrant and translucent.

Add your water or broth and bring the pan to the boil. I used 2 cups of vegetable stock and 1 of plain water, which worked perfectly.

If you haven't mixed up your raw polenta and water, now is the time to do so. Give it a few good stirs to break up any lumps. Then gradually add your polenta and water mix to the pot, stirring each addition in well.

When all your polenta has been added, it's time to settle in for the long haul. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for about 25 minutes. Many polenta recipes will have you stir for the entire cooking time, but I don't think this is necessary, especially if you are also cooking some tasty pinto beans at the same time. Just keep an eye on your polenta and stir it frequently.

Your polenta will be cooked when it's thick and is pulling away from the sides of the pan as you cook. Taste it to make sure. Then add your squash puree, season well with salt and pepper to taste (start with 1/2 tsp of each), stir it all up, and cook for another five minutes, or until hot through and tasty.

Chipotle pinto beans

butter or oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
cumin, oregano, salt to taste
~2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely minced
adobo sauce to taste
green onion to garnish

This is more or less a non-mashed version of basic refried beans. Saute onion and garlic in oil or butter until softened. Season with cumin, oregano, and salt. Add pinto beans and a bit of their broth (if homemade) and cook, stirring, for five or ten minutes, until everything is hot through and the beans are at your preferred degree of dryness. Correct seasonings and take the pan off the heat. Finally, stir in your chipotles, plus a couple spoonfuls of the adobo sauce to taste. (Chop the rest of the can of chipotles in adobo and freeze in an ice cube tray for future applications.)

Serve your beans over a big scoop of polenta and garnish with chopped green onion. Oh man, it's so good.

Fried winter squash polenta squares with fried egg

I spread the leftover polenta evenly into a casserole dish, pressed some parchment paper over the top, and left it to solidify a bit overnight. The next morning, I fried up a couple of squares in a little butter, then topped them with a fried egg. Plain romaine on the side.

This was an excellent plan and I highly recommend that you try it, either with neat squares of polenta or a couple of rough handfuls shaped into patties. Runny egg yolk with crispy polenta is definitely worth a few minutes of effort.

How are you eating the last of your winter storage vegetables?

09 April 2015

Spring salad pita with sugar snap peas, avocado, and mushrooms

Spring salad pita with sugar snap peas, avocado, and mushrooms

I have been putting raw sugar snap peas into pretty much everything I make lately. So good! So springy! So sweet and crunchy!

If it's still too early for peas where you are, I think some grated raw beet or carrot would be a good substitute. Those are pretty sweet and crunchy too.

This pita is just about the easiest lunch ever. Just chop up a salad's worth of vegetables, stuff them inside some warm pita bread, and go to town. It's such a good way to get plenty of fresh spring vegetables, snap peas or not.

Spring salad pita with sugar snap peas, avocado, and mushrooms

For 2 sandwiches:

2 loaves pita bread
3-4 large romaine lettuce leaves
1 medium avocado
~15 sugar snap peas
2 scallions
4-5 button mushrooms
~2 tbsp fresh parsley
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil or vinaigrette to dress
~4 tbsp hummus

Gently warm your pita in a 250F toaster oven (or just an ordinary oven) while you make the salad.

Wash your lettuce leaves and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Halve and dice your avocado. Finely slice your sugar snap peas, scallions, and mushrooms. Mince your parsley. Add all of these to a mixing bowl, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil or vinaigrette, and toss gently to combine.

When your pita breads are toasty warm and beginning to crisp up a bit on the outside, remove them from the toaster oven and cut them in half. Spread the inside of each half with hummus. Fill with your salad mixture, and you are ready to eat.

What sandwiches are you eating this spring?

02 April 2015

Sugar snap pea and chive schmear

Sugar snap pea and chive schmear

There were sugar snap peas at the farmer's market! Yay!

I had to make the most of them by eating a few raw. They were very nice that way, either by themselves or dipped into hummus. But it was clear that they would be even nicer mixed into some cream cheese and spread on pieces of hot toast.

I left my peas raw, because SPRING, but this would also work with steamed or blanched peas. Do what works for you.

Also, if you happen to be into the classic pea and fresh mint combination, you might want to give that a try instead of the chives. Double trouble!

Sugar snap pea and chive schmear

Sugar snap pea and chive schmear

~10 raw sugar snap peas
~8 chives
3-4 tbsp cream cheese/tofu cream cheese
salt & pepper to taste
a spoonful of optional milk/yogurt to thin

Break the stem of each pea and pull down to strip off the string that goes down the side of the pod. Discard the waste. Chop your peas and chives into fine slices.

Add all the ingredients to a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork. This will take a bit of effort, since cream cheese can be pretty thick and unmashable. A splash of milk or plain yogurt will help thin it down if necessary.

Spread on the toasted bagel or other bread product of your choice. I used wheat bread, because there were no bagels currently in the house, and it was good.

How are you eating your fresh spring peas?