Thanksgiving Vegetable Choices

Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful meal for sharing winter vegetables from the kitchen garden. The challenge is to figure out how to serve the greatest number of these tasty roots and greens without overwhelming the guests or the turkey.

This year, in an effort to combine lots of root vegetables into one earthy, colorful dish, I’m planning to cut rutabaga, turnip, carrots, parsnips, beets and celery root into bite sized pieces, roast them at about 400 degrees until they are soft, then toss the still-warm roots with an apple cider vinaigrette and serve this dish at room temperature as a salad. I may even arrange the roasted roots on a bed of radicchio or arugula so I can include these favorite hardy greens in the mix. Thanks to my friend Nancy for the inspiration for this salad.

Brussels sprouts are another favorite winter vegetable and Thanksgiving classic that many but not all guests like. A little camouflage goes a long way to creating converts. Rather than simply steaming whole sprouts, I sometimes slice them thinly and sauté them quickly in butter. Or I will halve or quarter them, toss them in olive oil and roast them at 450 degrees until they begin to crisp, usually in five minutes or so. Either way their appearance is unfamiliar enough that people try a few and then try more.

Mashed potatoes are the perfect vehicle for gravy and an essential part of Thanksgiving dinner but winter squash also mashes beautifully and holds gravy just as well as mashed potatoes do. Instead of serving one bowl of potatoes and one of squash, I’m considering a single bowl of Alice Waters’ Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree from Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996), not two but three vegetables in one dish. It’s deliciously rich on its own and gravy would only make it better. Mashed potato purists might resist until they try it, but just to be safe, I may serve a separate bowl of mashed potatoes.

Finally, winter salads are sometimes on my Thanksgiving menu and when they are they often feature our apples or pears mixed with hardy greens, kale, mache, arugula or radicchios, and maybe toasted nuts or even crunchy bits of raw celery root. This year, I have a lovely crop of flavorful, dark green mache thanks to seeds saved and shared by my friend Heike. I could make a simple mache salad with sherry vinegar vinaigrette, but if I decide my roasted roots dish fills the salad slot, I might skip the greens and serve a platter of roasted pears. Their caramelized sweetness would mix well all the other dishes and provide a sweet complement to tart cranberry sauce.

So many vegetables, so many choices: I’ll decide by Thursday morning. And I’ll post photos of the finished dishes then.

Day After Thanksgiving:

With the turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, we enjoyed roasted roots with apple cider vinaigrette, mache salad, roasted Brussels sprouts and Alice Water’s squash, potato, and celery root puree.

T-day vegetables

T-day diners

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup apple cider

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. finely shopped shallot

1 Tbsp. whole grain Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. honey

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with lid and shake well. Makes 1 ¼ cups

Store vinaigrette, covered, in the fridge. Let stand 10 minutes or until room temperature. Shake well and check seasoning before using.



Roasting Colorful Carrots

It is the season for roasting winter vegetables, roots and squash, Brussels sprouts and leeks. It’s my favorite kitchen garden season and especially welcomed this year because its arrival means I can return to the chapter on roasting vegetables in Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful cookbook Plenty More (2014). I got this fourth Ottolenghi cookbook last fall and used the roasting chapter often throughout the winter, particularly enjoying the excellent winter squash recipes and a recipe for roasting carrots with cumin and coriander and a touch of honey. It’s the carrot recipe that’s first on my list to make again.

In his introduction to the recipe Ottolenghi suggests: “Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.” There’s a beautiful photo to support his advice, but last winter I had only my favorite orange Mokum carrots growing kitchen garden. With only orange carrots, the recipe was still very pretty and definitely delicious but I told myself that next year I would plant purple, white, and even some red carrots. I’d seen them in farmers’ markets and seed catalogs for a decade or more and it was time finally to plant some in my kitchen garden.

Carrot colors PFMaineColorful carrots aren’t new, just newly popular. As John Navazio summarizes in “More Colors for Carrots, (2000)” “The ubiquitous orange carrot is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was first documented in Dutch paintings in the 1600s. But the first cultivated carrots, which originated in Afghanistan around a.d. 900, were purple. And then in the 10th century, yellow carrots were documented in the Middle East. These early purple and yellow carrots were used for human consumption as well as for animal fodder. By the 14th century, carrots had reached Europe and China. Europeans, preferring the yellow types for their tables, began selecting for culinary attributes such as flavor, texture, and storability. By the 1600s, white and orange carrots emerged on the scene, the latter being prized for the human diet, probably because of its rich color. Over the next 200 years, orange became the carrot color of choice.”

In this fascinating article, Navazio goes on to explain that while plant breeders have long focused on improving the “flavor, texture and nutritional value” of orange carrots and ignored non-orange carrots, this focus is changing partly because the older, purple, yellow, red and white carrot varieties “have a virtual potluck of tastes” and partly because they “contain important healthful phytonutrients.” In the rest of the article he profiles the best of the colorful carrot varieties, offering history, nutritional information, planting and cooking tips for the “passionate purples, mellow yellows, true reds and wonderful whites.”

Inspired by Ottolenghi, Navazio and the beautiful bunches displayed at farmers’ markets, I studied seed catalog offerings and last January ordered Purple Haze and White Satin from Fedco and Red Samurai from Territorial, and not ready to abandon orange, more Mokum.  In April I planted some short rows of purple, white and red. The purple and the white carrots germinated and grew quickly. At harvest they were as beautiful as I’d anticipated and even better they were delicious, especially when roasted.

Carrots, colored, in basketPurple Haze is slender with a long, tapered root, dark purple on the outside and bright orange inside. White Satin is thicker and grows very quickly, rising above the soil level. I was happy to learn from Navazio that these tall “shoulders” which turn green in sunlight are safe to eat. The flesh underneath the green is as white and juicy as the rest of the carrot. The only disappointment was Red Samurai, which formed a robust top above ground but underground formed only a long, skinny, pinkish taproot, woody and flavorless. I’m hoping Territorial Seed Company will respond to my email asking for advice.

Carrots, colors, in roasting panIn late July I planted much longer rows of Purple Haze, White Satin and Mokum. Thanks to good weather and a tent of Reemay that foiled carrot rust fly, I’m now harvesting lovely bunches of colorful carrots for winter roasting with cumin, coriander, thyme and honey. The tahini yogurt sauce Ottolenghi suggests adds just the right nutty, acid flavors to balance the carrot sweetness but a simple squeeze of lemon before serving is good too and keeps the focus on the vibrant, flavorful carrots. Either way, I’m happy that I’m finally growing and roasting these colorful carrots. Next year, I’ll find a better red and add a yellow to the mix.

Carrots, colored, roasted

Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt

From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (2014)

The inspiration for this was Sarah’s grandmother (“nan”) Dulcie in Tasmania, who always used to add some honey to the pan before roasting her carrots. I’m not sure what Dulcie would have thought about a tahini yogurt sauce served alongside, but the sweetness of the carrots certainly welcomes it. Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.

Serves 4

Tahini-yogurt sauce:

Scant 3 tablespoons/40 g tahini paste

2/3 cup/130 g Greek yogurt

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed salt


Scant 3 tablespoons/60 g honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

3 thyme sprigs

Salt and black pepper

12 large carrots, peeled and each cut crosswise into two 2 1/2-inch/6-cm batons (3 pounds/1.3 kg)

1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.

Place all the ingredients for the tahini sauce in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together and set aside.

Place the honey, oil, coriander and cumin seeds, and thyme in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the carrots and mix well until coated, (Don’t worry if the mixture doesn’t coat the carrots; it will when it warms in the oven.) then spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until cooked through and glazed.

Transfer the carrots to a large serving platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a spoonful of sauce on top, scattered with the cilantro.

Farm-to-table Meals in Italy and Israel

We’re just back from a month of traveling in Italy and Israel where a highlight of both places was the food, particularly the farm-to-table meals. On a weeklong village-to-village walk in the Sabine Hills north of Rome, we stayed three of our nights at farms that served amazing dinners and a fourth night enjoyed another wonderful dinner at a farm near our hotel. The most delightful of these agritourism farms was Le Mole Sul Farfa near Mompeo. In Israel, on a splendid visit with our niece, her husband and their daughter who live in Tel Aviv, we shared the best lunch of our trip at Goats With the Wind a goat farm and restaurant high in the hills above the Sea of Galilee. Enjoying the food of another country is a huge pleasure of traveling, and farms and farmers are the best source of this pleasure.

At Le Mole sul Farfa, dinners combined traditional Italian recipes with imaginative vegetarian cuisine prepared from the farm’s vegetable gardens. Our host Stefano Fassone introduced the meals by describing the source of the ingredients and their preparation. Highlights were homemade pappardelle topped with tomato sauce, black olives and a touch of lemon zest, thin slices of fried eggplant wrapped around mozzarella and baked, and thinly sliced beets topped with a tangle of arugula then sprinkled with walnuts from the tree outside and goat cheese from a neighboring farm. Dinner ended with glasses of Stefano’s homemade limoncello.

But while Le Mole sul Farfa’s lovely accommodations and amazing meals were more than enough to make it our favorite agritourism stay, the tour of its grove of ancient olive trees that produce the farm’s main crop made our visit here the highlight of our Italian travels.

Late in the afternoon, Stefano walked with us through his grove of olive trees, describing the extensive Roman villa that occupied the site 2000 years ago and provided olive oil for the expanding city of Rome. When Stefano bought the land local farmers told him that there were caves on the property, but as he investigated the “caves” he discovered that they were actually vaulted storage areas that were the basement of a villa, the first evidence of the villa that had occupied the site.

Stefano's vaultGiving us flashlights, Stefano took us into an ancient vault to see a further discovery that links his olive groves to the original Roman farmers: three large troughs connected by channels, one higher and one lower*. Standing in the dusky light, we listened as Stefano explained how ingenious Romans designed these troughs to separate oil from the water that resulted from crushing the olives. Today Stefano uses a centrifuge to separate oil from water but the olives remain the same, a crop that has been farmed and processed for centuries.

Returning to the grove, Stefano took us to several of his largest trees and told us botanists who conducted DNA studies on the trees determined that these trees were 1500 years old. Stefano thinks they may be even older, perhaps as old as the villa.

Stefano's trees trunksLooking at these gnarled, gray trunks topped by healthy leaves and a heavy crop of this year’s olives, it was hard to grasp what they represent. They carry this year’s crop of olives but they have been producing olives for centuries, as villas were established, abandoned, and slowly covered in earth. And here they are today tended by a 21st century farmer and producing a crop that sustains his family.

Stefano's grove

This sense of the past in the present was just as strong in Israel. On one of the many delightful food adventures our niece planned for us, we made our way from urban Tel Aviv to the Goats With the Wind farm and restaurant, driving from highways to smaller roads and eventually to a steep and rocky dirt road winding up a hillside. Soon we saw goats and then the entire flock passed by us surrounding the car on all sides and moving on. We continued to the farm, a collection of stone buildings with fancifully painted gates.

GWW stone wall

We felt like we’d entered another world and this sensation continued as our lovely host led us to a small pavilion surrounded by a wrought iron fence and topped with a rush roof. Kilim rugs covered the floor and pillows surrounded low tables topped with colorful cloths. Just being here was a visual feast but then the food began: a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread, a bowl of labaneh, a thick yogurt-like cheese topped with olive oil, and a plate of fresh ricotta fried in sumac, then large bowls of salad, one eggplant, one tomato, one red cabbage and cucumber, all fresh and flavorful. And finally our host, laughing at us as we cheered each time she appeared, brought a board of cheese, a sampling of all the goat cheeses the farm makes.

GWW lunchAnd we had wine, a lovely red also made at the farm. We ate slowly, savoring the food, the place and our time together, knowing we were in the present but feeling also that we’d been transported to an earlier time.

We thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant part of Goats With the Wind but it’s also a farm and we were welcome to tour it and the kitchen and to ask questions. As our host explained, the goats we saw on our drive in are milked daily and the milk is made into cheese. The goats in their stone enclosures or on the rocky hillsides around the farm were both the source of our delicious lunch and also part of the ancient landscape, something that has lived on the land for centuries, like the olive trees.

GWW kitchen

GWW goats

Now we are back home with photos and notes to help us recall our adventures and memories of flavors and preparations to inspire experiments in the kitchen. With my Italian and Middle Eastern cookbooks and the fall and winter vegetables flourishing in the kitchen garden, I’ll see what I can create to prolong the pleasures of our travels.

*For another story about Le Mole Sul Farfa that includes a photo of the olive oil tanks, go to this 2009 article by Sue Watt:

Autumn Equinox

9:15 Equinox view

Today is the autumn equinox, the end of summer and beginning of fall. In the kitchen garden, this end of one season and beginning of the next has become especially visible. Over the past weeks and days I’ve pulled the withered foliage of summer growing plants from their beds and in their place have spread compost and planted cover crops. As I smoothed and admired the dark brown soil of these beds my eye also wandered to other beds filled with the robust foliage of fall and winter crops, shiny green and red of chard and varied leaves of radicchio and kale, blue green spears of leeks, scoop-shaped leaves of Brussels sprouts, giant rosettes of winter cabbage, flopping leaves of rutabaga and turnips and feathery tops of carrots, parsnips and celery root.

9:15 Kale


9:15 Leeks9:15 Brussels sprouts9:15 Winter Cabbage9:15 Celery rootIn the rush of summer harvests I paid little attention to these slowly growing hardy greens and roots but now they stand out against the emptied summer beds. They signal the beginning of a new season in the kitchen garden, meals rich with strong, earthy flavors, perfect for the shorter days ahead. After our long and lovely summer, I’m ready for the new season to begin.

Hot, Hot Summer

Garden view 8:15It’s been a very hot summer here in the Pacific Northwest with many days over 80 degrees, and our kitchen garden has offered lots of indicators of this unusual weather pattern. There have been a lot of “firsts.”

I just double-checked my harvest notes to confirm that I really did pick a Cherokee Purple tomato on June 27 and a Brandywine a few days later. It’s usually mid-July before we’re eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. Peppers usually turn red in mid-August but this year I started harvesting sweet, red Carmen the third week of July. Green beans and eggplant were early too, so early that the carrots and beets that usually fill the weeks before and after July 4th got passed over for these summer treats.

Corn thrives in heat and we were looking forward an amazingly early August harvest of a crop we usually harvest in September. So apparently were the raccoons. For the first time in the twenty-two years that I’ve grown corn here raccoons demolished my crop, first the sweet corn and then a week or so later the flint corn. Was it the heat that produced a crop that especially tempted the raccoons or had their usual food sources dried out? Whatever the reason, next year whether it’s hot again or cool I will follow my friends Debbie and Maxine’s plan and get a special raccoon fence.

Storage crops like shallots and onions, dried beans and winter squash can be a challenge to harvest before autumn rains in cooler years. Not a problem this year! For the first time ever the onion stalks toppled over without my help and the onions cured in the field. Usually mid-August onions still have green stems and I end up pulling onions and bringing them into the green house to cure. This morning I just took onions from the field to the storage room.
Onions cured in bedDry beans like Black urtle beans and white Drabo usually dry on the vine but not until mid-to-late September when I’m anxiously watching for rain that could cause the crop to mildew. This year they are dry on the vine now. I’ve just harvested Drabo and will harvest Black Turtle soon.  Who knows, I may even find time to shell them before winter.

Beans Drabo dryBeans, black dryBeautiful orange, green and dusty blue winter squash are emerging through the dying vines in the squash beds, early like all the other storage crops. As my friend Diane said the other day, maybe the squash will actually cure in the field this year. In years past, I’ve brought them inside to a warm place for a few weeks to cure before putting them in cool storage. Maybe this year, like the onions, they will go right from garden to storage.

Winter squash 8:15

All these harvest firsts are exciting but also alarming. Are my early harvest dates a kitchen garden indicator of the global warming I know is happening? Will this summer’s temperatures become the “new normal”? It will be next garden year before I know what these firsts mean but I’m hoping this year is just a novelty.

Busman’s Holiday

One of the pleasures of exploring our coastal northwest is the chance to see other kitchen gardens growing in this climate. Recently we traveled by ferry and bicycle from Lopez Island to Vancouver Island, BC, the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island and back to Lopez. As we pedaled along bike trails and quiet roads, we saw flourishing vegetable and fruit gardens on a much larger scale than ours and delighted in the farm stands, farmers markets and restaurants that they supply.

On the bike route from the Sidney, BC ferry terminal to Victoria, we stopped at Mitchell’s, “a sixth generation family owned and operated farm that has been growing on the Saanich Peninsula for over 150 years.” From our bikes we could see their fields stretching up one side of the valley and in their store we saw some of the “over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables” they grow. Their website offers a great series of vegetable photos.

The next day, biking from Port Angeles to Sequim, we stopped at Nash’s Farm Store, a highlight for me because I’ve admired Nash Huber ever since reading about him years ago in the Puget Sound Consumer’s Cooperative (PCC) newsletter. Unlike Mitchell Brothers, Nash Huber didn’t start with family land but with the PCC Farmland Trust. Working with the trust he has saved acres and acres of farmland from development and farms many of them now, supplying his farm stand, farmers markets and restaurants with his produce. He’s especially famous for his carrots. I spotted him at the back of the store and one of the staff said proudly, “Yes, that’s our Nash.”

In addition to farm stands open daily, there are farmers markets all along the Olympic Peninsula.  Most are open only on Saturday but we were lucky to find the wonderful Wednesday Port Townsend Farmers Market open  at Polk and Lawrence streets in the uptown section of Port Townsend. Dharma Ridge, Finnriver, Midori Farm and Red Dog Farm were just four of the many farms offering gorgeous fruits and vegetables.   After seeing the beautifully grown produce from all of these farms and talking with their proud farmers, we imagined future bike trips to visit each of them.

PFM berries

PFM tomatoes

As travelers, we didn’t have a kitchen for this amazing produce but there are wonderful restaurants that serve this abundance. In Victoria, we ate at Olo a word that means “hungry” in Chinook Jargon. We were hungry when we arrived but not when we left. Their menu featuring locally grown vegetables and fruit, island-raised beef and fish from local waters reveals why. One side dish I repeated as soon as we got home was farro served with fava beans. It sounds simple but the subtle visual treat of light brown farro and bright green fava beans and the combination of chewy, nutty grains and soft, earthy beans, were perfect. Olo served this side with lingcod but it makes a fine meal on its own.

In Sequim we ate at Nourish, “Garden to Plate, Sequim’s Gathering Place” . It is located at the very top of a long hill but definitely worth the effort to get to on a bike. We sat outside and enjoyed the views of their gardens, Sequim, the Strait and in the distance Lopez Island. My delicious NW Nicoise Salad substituted grilled NW wild salmon for the usual tuna and added lots of vegetables and greens to the classic potato and egg. Inspired by their salad, I made a version of it for a picnic the other night adding green and yellow beans and sliced red and gold cherry tomatoes to roasted potatoes and grilled salmon.

And in Port Townsend we ate lunch and then breakfast the next day Sweet Laurette Café and Bistro, another inspiring farm-to-table focused restaurant. The breakfast Farmers Market Scramble, “dictated by what is fresh and organic from our farmers this week” added a sauté of many of the beautiful vegetables we’d seen the day before at the Wednesday market to softly scrambled eggs, just the thing to set us up for the final day of biking.

Heading home on the ferry later that day, we admitted that a bike ride around our Lopez Island and the other San Juan Islands would have given us similar experiences of farms, farm stands and markets and farm-to-table meals but branching out to see what’s around us reminds us of the amazing variety and abundance of farming in our region. We’re ready to explore more.

Bees in the Worm Bin

We have a worm bin, a large plywood box our friend Kirm made for us years ago. The idea is to let worms turn vegetable and fruit trimmings into soil in the darkness of the box, safe under the heavy lid that keeps out pests like rats and raccoons. When I open the lid every few days to add more trimmings, all I see are slowly decomposing organic matter and the occasional sow bug.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I opened the worm bin on a recent afternoon and saw a mass of honeybees clustered around layers of honeycomb fixed to the upper corner of the lid.Bees closeup iPhone smaller

What the heck? That buzzing sound I’d heard when I neared the bin suddenly got louder. I quickly closed the lid.

There had been no buzzing or bees five days earlier when I left for a short trip, but in my time away a swarm of bees had found its way through a tiny opening where the lid met the box, perhaps mistaking the worm bin for a hive box. They had been busy.

We don’t have beehives but luckily our neighbors Kevin and Mary do. I called them and they agreed to come over that evening with their bee suits and a hive box and take a look. On the phone, Mary explained that swarming often happens this time of year. A queen and a large group of worker bees will leave their original hive and go looking, or swarming, for a new home. In this case, they found one in our worm bin.

We watched from a distance as Kevin and Mary, dressed in their protective bee gear, studied the layers of comb attached to the worm bin lid and planned how to transfer them to a hive box.

Bees K&M studying hive

Bees K&M closeup

Using a narrow scraper, Kevin gently eased each comb from the plywood lid and lowered it into the hive box. He explained that the comb was very warm and soft so the transfer was a bit tricky. In one of the combs he spotted the queen, a good sign he said for a successful transfer of the swarm to their hive box. A bit of comb broke off and Mary brought us the piece to taste. The honey was warm and runny, delicately sweet and almost fermented tasting like dessert wine.

Once they’d transferred the combs to their hive box, Kevin and Mary said they’d leave the hive box sitting in the worm bin until after dark, giving all the bees a chance to return to their new home, and then would come back and take it to join their other hives.

I called Mary a few weeks later to see how the new hive was doing. She said they were doing great and a few days later Kevin sent some photos.

Bees K & M #1

He wrote: “The first shows the swarm’s stack.  The bottom box (green) is a swarm from our hives.  The second box (white) is the “Hatch” swarm and the top box (green) contains the comb that they had built while in the worm bin.  We have since taken the green box away as they had cleaned out the comb, and we will melt it down with other wax we save.”

Bees K & M # 2

“The second picture shows some of our other hives, the swarm stack is on the right.  The “Hatch” swarm is very busy and the queen has started laying eggs.  It takes a couple of weeks from egg to bee, but soon we will see some young bees emerging from the white box. Thanks again.”

Here at my house the worm bin is back to its dark, quiet state. There are traces of wax on the lid where the worker bees attached the combs but that’s the only reminder of the temporary tenants. I haven’t tried to close that little gap between the lid and the box, though, hoping that maybe another swarm will decide to visit.