Two Years of Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens

Two years ago this month I started writing Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens blog.  Thank you all for your enthusiasm and encouragement as I’ve posted stories and pictures about what I’ve been doing in the garden and the kitchen.  Your responses online and in person have been one of the biggest pleasures of writing this blog.

When I began this blog I wasn’t sure where it would take me.  What would it be like to write regularly about gardening and cooking, two activities that have been constant pleasures in my life for years?  I’m pleased to say that this blog has turned out to be a very satisfying way both to stop and think about what I’m doing and to figure out how to share my experiences and discoveries.

Many of the posts I’ve written have given me the opportunity to focus on growing, harvesting and cooking a single vegetable.  Having an excuse to pull out gardening books and seed catalogs, old article files and new Internet resources has been a wonderful way to review and build on years of lessons taught by trial and error.  The pleasures have been the same in the kitchen, revisiting favorite recipes, techniques and cookbooks, experimenting with new ways to prepare vegetables, often inspired by current ideas from favorite cookbook authors and food columnists.  There are so many engaging food and garden writers.  It’s been a treat to make the time to read them regularly.

In addition to vegetables I’ve written about garden planning and about the infrastructure that underlies the garden.  Seed ordering, planting calendars and seed starting begin each gardening year and irrigation, mulch, bean and pea structures, bug and bird barriers and protection from cold, heat and wind all help the plants thrive.

Figuring out how to share what I’ve learned from experience and research has been satisfying too.  The question “What do I want people to learn?” is left over from my years as a teacher but it continues to help me focus, to select what’s important and let the rest go. Writing a first draft and revising and revising again until I’ve found what I really want to say are processes I deeply enjoy.  And then there are the photographs! WordPress makes it so easy to insert images into the text, color photographs to illustrate stories about a beautiful vegetable, delicious meal or piece of garden infrastructure.  From the beginning of this blog, my husband Scott has provided exquisite photos.  And yes, we do get to eat all the food he photographs.

Finally, I’ve discovered that writing this blog has been a way to think more about what it’s like to be in the kitchen garden and at the table in all of the seasons of the gardening year. As I reread two years of posts, I noticed how often I referred to light, to the gradually lengthening days of spring, the long days of summer sun, the early dark of fall and winter as background to the vegetables I was planting, harvesting or cooking.  Kale buds, asparagus spears, early lettuce welcome the growing light of spring, dinner plates full of fresh green and the beginning of a new planting season.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans highlight long, warm days and evenings, summer dinners of sliced tomatoes, crisp peppers, caponata, sweet beans.  Root vegetables mark shortening days, harvesting in nearly dark late afternoons and sharing hearty dinners indoors, blinds drawn and candles illuminating the table. Looking back on these posts I’m also struck by how quickly the year in vegetables goes by.  But writing this blog has also slowed down the garden year, giving me the chance to notice and enjoy the vegetable markers of each subtle change.  I hope I’ve given you the same experience.

P.S.

To make it easier to find posts on different topics, I’ve created new categories on the right hand side of the blog under the heading Browse by Subject.  Just click on Spring Vegetables, Summer Vegetables, Fall/Winter Vegetables, or Garden Planning and Infrastructure to find the posts on each of these topics.  WordPress also makes it easy to search the entire blog for specific topics.  Just type a topic into the Search box on the upper right hand side of the page above the garden photo and click the Return key.  Or just browse the blog by month.

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Great Grated Beets

I’ve planted beets three times so far this season, once in April and twice in May and will do one more planting soon to take us into fall and winter.  Because there are so many creative and tasty ways to prepare beets, I like to have a supply for each season.  This year I grew a red, Kestrel, and a yellow, Touchstone Gold, for spring and summer beets and I may just plant the same two for fall and winter.  Kestrel is a dark red beet with an earthy beet flavor and dense texture; Touchstone Gold has a slightly more delicate beet flavor and more tender flesh.  In addition to their contrasting flavors and textures, their colors make a lovely pairing on the plate.

Beets whole red yellow

I’ve already harvested and cooked the last of the April planting and the first May planting is ready.  With this summer abundance of sweet, colorful beets I’ve been making salads.  If I have cooked beets on hand, I’ll add them to greens or to carrots or fennel for a vegetable salad but for something even speedier, I’ll grate raw beets to add to salad greens or to serve on their own.   I use a box grater or the julienne blade on the Cuisinart.  The crisp shreds of raw beets are a nice change from the softer, denser texture of cooked beets and the sharpness of vinegar or citrus in the dressing balances the heavily sweet flavor of beets.

So many flavors go well with beets and salad dressings and vinaigrettes take advantage of this versatility.  The other night I added mustard vinaigrette to shredded yellow beets and used them to garnish cooked red beets.

Beets yellow gratedAnother night, I made the Grated Raw Beet Salad with Star Anise from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  Star anise flavors the cider vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette and whole anise seeds mix into the grated beets.  I also added some fresh anise hyssop leaves and blossoms.  All these anise flavors add a spicier sweetness to the solid sweetness of beets.

Beets red anise

Grated Raw Beet Salad with Star Anise

from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy (2013)

12 to 16 ounces beets

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or aged red wine vinegar

Sea salt

1 small onion or large shallot, finely diced

2 pinched brown or white sugar

½ teaspoon powdered star anise

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ teaspoon anise seeds

Peel the beets with a paring knife or vegetable peeler unless the skins are clean and fresh.  Grate on the large holes of a box grater and transfer the shreds to a bowl.  (If using red beets with other colors, wait to add them as they stain the whole salad red.)  Combine the vinegar with ¼ teaspoon salt, onion, sugar, star anise, and olive oil.  Mix, let stand for several minutes to dissolve the salt and sugar, then pour the dressing over the beets and toss with the anise seeds.  Chill well.  Taste for salt.  When serving the beets, pick up the shreds with a pair of tongs and let the juice flow back into the bowl.

Citrus provides more contrast with the beet sweetness.  This 2010 recipe for Grated Raw Beet Salad from Martha Rose Shulman is quick and delicious.  Fresh ginger or ground cumin are also good additions to this dressing.   To take to a dinner party, I made one salad with red beets and another with yellow and added them to a platter of roasted zucchini and the last of the sugar snap peas.  Pretty and fast.

Beets Red Yellow grated saladjpg

And for one more treat with grated beets I made Nigel Slater’s grated beets and ground lamb burgers.  The burgers were moist, as Slater promised, and especially flavorful, smelling wonderful as they grilled and tasting even better.  The yogurt sauce added a touch of acidity to balance the sweet lamb and sweet beets. I didn’t go so far as to serve grated beet salad with these beet and lamb burgers but maybe next time.  There are still beets in the kitchen garden.

Beet and lamb burgers

Grated Beets and Ground Lamb Burgers

from Nigel Salter, Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (2009)

Fine or medium cracked wheat – ½ cup

Raw beets – 9 ounces

A small or medium onion

Ground lamb – a pound

Garlic – two large cloves, crushed

Chopped dill – 2 heaping tablespoons

Parsley – a small handful, chopped

Put the cracked wheat in a bowl, pour over enough boiling water to cover, then set aside to swell. (I used already cooked cracked emmer farro.)

Peel the beets and onion and grate them coarsely into a large bowl.  Add the ground lamb, garlic, dill, parsley, and a generous grinding of salt and black pepper.

Squeeze any water from the cracked wheat with your hands and add to the meat.  Mix everything together thoroughly, then form the mixture into patties.  Chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Heat a nonstick pan, brush the patties with a little peanut oil, and fry until golden on both sides.  Once they are lightly browned on both sides, carefully lift them into a baking dish and finish in a hot oven for fifteen to twenty minutes.  Incidentally, you can only tell if they are done by tasting one, as the beets give them a rich red color, making it impossible to gauge by sight whether they are cooked.  (Instead of using this cooking technique, we grilled them on the gas barbeque.)

Yogurt dressing

Cucumber – a bout a third of a medium one

Mint – leaves from 4 or 5 springs, chopped

Capers – a tablespoon

Yogurt – ¾ cup

Make the dressing by grating the cucumber coarsely and leaving it in a colander, lightly sprinkled with salt, for half an hour.  Squeeze it dry, then mix it with the chopped mint, capers, and yogurt.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fabulous Fava Beans

The fava beans have been ripening over the past two weeks and I’ve been processing many pints for the freezer but I’ve also been mixing them with other vegetables of this early summer season, sugar snap peas, beets, cauliflower and mint.  Three new recipes have been hits and make me glad that there are lots of favas in the freezer.  Yes, fava beans take a while to prepare—shelling, blanching, pinching the skin off each bean—but these recipes are so quick they make up for the time spent preparing fabulous favas.

Fava beans prepared

The first is a pasta recipe from Melissa Clark and her Good Appetite column in the New York Times: Cacio e Pepe with Peas and Favas.  Clark adds shelled peas and shelled fava beans to the classic Italian preparation of cheese and black pepper on spaghetti.  Watch the video that’s part of her column to see how quick and easy this recipe is.  Coarsely ground black pepper toasts briefly in melted butter, a little of the pasta water added to this mixture turns it into a sauce, the cooked pasta and grated cheeses tossed into this sauce result in perfectly coated strands of spaghetti ready for the addition of peas and favas.  Instead of English peas I used sliced sugar snap peas because that’s what’s growing in my kitchen garden.  I served this dish with a salad of radicchio and beets, great flavors to go with the pasta.

Fava, cacio, pepe pasta

Fava, cacio, pepe pasta w: salad

The second is a salad, Golden Beets, Fava Beans and Mint, from Deborah Madison’s newest cookbook, Vegetable Literacy (2013).  Sweet golden beets and earthy bright green fava beans meld with slivered mint and thinly sliced salty cheese in lemon vinaigrette.  A feast for the eye and the tongue! Madison recommends Ricotta Salata cheese but I used Pecorino Romano, another dry, salty cheese, because that’s what I had.  Feta or goat cheese would be tasty too. Madison writes that she “adores fava beans prepared this way.”  I do too.

Fava beet salad

Golden Beets, Fava Beans and Mint

from Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy p. 351

serves 4

4-6 smallish golden beets or a mixture of golden and Chioggia beets

1-2 pounds fresh fava beans, in their pods

Slivered mint leaves plus a few small whole ones, a heaping tablespoon

Sea Salt

Ricotta salata cut into thin shards

Freshly ground black pepper

Lemon and shallot vinaigrette

Steam the beets until tender.  Rinse briefly to cool, then slip off skins and slice the beets into wedges.  Toss them with a little vinaigrette.

Shuck the fava beans.  Drop them into boiling water for about a minute, then drain and drop them into a pan of cold water to cool. Pinch off the skins and moisten the beans with a little of the vinaigrette.

Toss the beets with the favas and mint leaves.  Taste for salt, and, if dry, add a little more vinaigrette.  Heap them onto a platter.  Put  the cheese in the bowl and toss it with the remaining vinaigrette and season with pepper and salt, tuck into the vegetables and serve.

The third is a variation on Nigel Slater’s Asparagus, Fava Bean and Mint Pilaf from his cookbook Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (2009).  I love this pilaf and love experimenting with it by adding other vegetables.  Basmati rice cooks in a skillet slicked with melted butter flavored with green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves and cumin seeds.  The vegetables go in just before the rice is done.  This time I added cauliflower I’d roasted in oil and curry powder and sliced sugar snap peas along with the favas and served yogurt mint sauce and pear chutney on the side.  There were no leftovers.

Favas in pilaf

A Pilaf of Asparagus, Fava Beans, and Mint

from Nigel Slater, Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch, p. 32

enough for 2

a couple of handfuls of shelled fava beans

a couple of handfuls
of thin asparagus spears

2/3 cup white basmati rice

4 tablespoons butter

3 bay leaves

6 very lightly crushed green cardamom pods

6 black peppercorns

a cinnamon stick


2 or 3 cloves

a small pinch cumin seeds 


a couple of thyme sprigs


4 thin green onions

3 or 4 sprigs parsley

Wash the rice three times in cold water, moving the grains around with your fingers. Cover with warm water, add a teaspoon of salt, and set aside for a good hour.

Cook the fava beans in deep, lightly salted boiling water for four minutes, until almost tender, then drain and slip off skins. Trim the asparagus and cut it into short lengths. Boil or steam for three minutes, then drain.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the bay leaves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves, cumin seeds, and sprigs of thyme. Stir them in the butter for a minute or two, until the fragrance wafts up. Drain the rice and add it to the warmed spices. Cover with about 1/4 inch (1cm) of water and bring to a boil. Season with salt, cover, and decrease the heat to simmer.

Finely slice the green onions. Chop the parsley.

After five minutes, remove the lid and gently fold in the asparagus, fava beans, green onions, and parsley. Replace the lid and continue cooking for five or six minutes, until the rice is tender but has some bite to it. All the water should have been absorbed. Leave, with the lid on but the heat off for two or three minutes. Remove the lid, add a tablespoon of butter if you wish, check the seasoning, and fluff gently with a fork. Serve with the yogurt sauce below.

Yogurt sauce:
Stir 2 tablespoons of chopped mint, a little salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into 3/4 cup (200g) thick, but not strained, yogurt. You could add a small clove of crushed garlic too. Spoon over the pilaf at the table.