Gardening and Traveling

I love gardening and the meals that the kitchen garden offers, but I love traveling too. As I plan each year’s gardening calendar, decisions about when to plant are influenced by when I want to be away. Over the years, I’ve learned that with the help of gardening friends to water and to raise lights as indoor seeded plants grow I can arrange planting timetables that open spaces for travel throughout the year.

February and March are the months when I start seeds indoors for summer’s plants, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers; storage plants like shallots and onions; late spring plants like peas, broccoli and cauliflower; and long season plants like celery root.

Sometime in April, early or later depending on weather and when I’m home, I begin planting seeds in the ground, salad greens, spring turnips, carrots, beets, fennel and potatoes. In May I continue with seeds that need a little more warmth to germinate, corn and beans directly in the ground and squash in pots to germinate before setting them out as soon as they’ve formed true leaves. Late May is also the time to start leeks in pots or in a nursery bed so I can transplant pencil-size stalks in early July.

June to late July I’m thinking ahead to fall and winter vegetables, direct seeding parsnips in early June, starting Brussels sprouts indoors a week later, then cabbage, more broccoli and cauliflower indoors. In July I start kale, chard and more fennel, carrots and beets as well as winter turnips and rutabaga.

Early August and on into September I start seed of hardy greens like mache, arugula, mustards and radicchios. And from October to January I harvest fall and winter crops but have no more seeds to plant.

This planting summary suggests that October through January would be great months to travel and they are. Weeks of hiking and backpacking, more weeks of skiing, and longer trips farther away find room in the calendar. But spring is great for travel too. Attention to planting timetables and the help of a kind friend who’s happy to share my seed starting room to start her own plants make it possible.

Last year, I was away from the garden for most of April. Knowing that tomatoes take about six weeks from seeding to setting into the ground, I started tomato seeds on February 17th and set out sturdy plants in the greenhouse on March 27th a few days before leaving for a month.

tomato-starts-soil

 

tomato-seedlings-sturdy-tall

The same day I started tomatoes I also started some broccoli and cauliflower and set these starts out in the garden just before we left. On March 1st I seeded a flat of onions and set robust plants out in the garden when I returned at the end of April. Also on March 1st I started a flat of sugar snap peas and set them out in the garden on March 18th.  Finally, because I wanted to have eggplant and pepper starts ready to plant out when I returned, I started seeds in 1-inch cells on March 8th , moved these tiny seedlings to 4-inch pots three weeks later, just before leaving, and when I returned in a month sturdy plants were ready for the garden.

This year I’ll be traveling for most of March and into April. Encouraged by my success last year, I modified the timetable slightly. I’ll be back April 5th so I started tomatoes February 22nd and hope for plants to set out soon after I return. I’m starting eggplant and peppers in 2×2 inch pots March 6th, the day before I leave, and hope they’ll be ready to pot up into 4-inch pots when I return and then be ready for the garden a few weeks after that. I seeded onions on March 1st again this year but not peas. This spring has been so cold and wet that I’ll wait until I return to plant peas. And I’ll leave the broccoli and cauliflower I started February 22nd in 4-inch pots and hope they won’t be too overgrown to set out when I return.

Finding a balance between garden and travel, between being home and being away is a challenge for a year-round kitchen gardener but the adventure of travel makes it worth the effort.

 

Advertisements

Habas y Jamon & Espárragos Revuelto

We’re just back from three weeks of walking in the countryside and cities of Andalusia, Spain. Dramatic landscapes, complex history, friendly Spaniards and fellow travelers were all highlights of our trip. We also returned with very fond memories of Andalusian food.

On our village-to-village walks I watched for kitchen gardens and the vegetables growing in them this time of year. Onions, chard and early lettuce stood out against brown soil and in even in the smallest garden plots there were often stands of habas, what I know as fava beans and what the English call broad beans. Favas growing in AndalusiaIn larger gardens long rows of favas grew around almond and olive trees, some with blossoms and some with pods already formed, like those in the kitchen garden of Las Chimeneas, the inn and restaurant in Mairena where we stayed for a week while taking daily walks into the mountains and to surrounding villages.

Fava beans are one of our kitchen garden favorites here on Lopez Island, planted in fall or in early spring and harvested in June or July. Fava beans growing jpgWe serve them pureed for crostini or sandwiches and whole in pasta sauces or as side dishes, but none of these Italian and Californian preparations prepared me for Habas y Jamon, fava beans and Serrano ham, a classic Andalusian dish. The first night our hosts served it I was transported. There was the familiar earthy fava flavor but with a pleasant, faint bitterness from the skin still encasing the small, tender beans. Added to these flavors were the salty sweetness of the ham and the subtle flavors of onion, tomato and orange in the surrounding sauce. Familiar tastes yet a totally new combination. I wanted to eat it every night.

When I told our hosts how much I enjoyed this dish, they graciously offered to show me how to make it, adding this dish to the paella demonstration they’d planned. ConchiAssisted by Emma on the right, Conchi began by adding nearly a cupful of olive oil to a large skillet, warming it as she sliced in a couple of onions and lightly softened them. Next she added two or three handfuls of thinly sliced ham, warming it briefly before chopping and adding several tomatoes, zest from an orange and finally several quarts of small shelled but not peeled fava beans. That was it. The mixture simmered back in the kitchen as she showed us how to make paella. Habas y Jamon was served as a side dish to the paella but for me it could have been the entire meal

With only peeled and frozen favas from last year’s crop and no true Serrano ham, I was still determined to recreate this dish. My first scaled-down version of Conchi’s recipe was very tasty, bringing back happy memories of the original dish. Habas y Jamon in skilletI’m looking forward to this year’s fava crop and the chance to try some unpeeled beans from an early harvest. And maybe I can even find some real Serrano ham.

Asparagus was another spring vegetable we saw many times but not growing in gardens. Instead, in our walks along country paths, we saw long, thin stalks of wild asparagus in the arms and pockets of foragers. Forager #1

Forager #2These jolly foragers reminded me of the cookbook author and writer David Tanis’s story of eating wild asparagus in Andalusia in the spring. Tanis writes: “Long, skinny and ever so slightly bitter, Spanish wild asparagus has a deep green flavor. The best way to cook it, I was told, is sautéed in olive oil with garlic, then swirled with beaten eggs to make a revuelto…a kind of scrambled eggs.” The recipe he developed to accompany his story includes chorizo, green onions and a scattering of toasted croutons along with the eggs and asparagus.

Back home with asparagus from our kitchen garden, I followed his recipe. Though missing the wild asparagus and the wonderful pimenton-flavored chorizo of Andalusia, the dish was delicious and kept our food memories of Spain alive.Asparagus Revuelto

 

 

 

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:

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.

A Kitchen Garden in Canyon Country

We took a road trip to the canyon country of southeast Utah for several weeks in October, making our way from one park to the next, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase/Escalante, Bryce and Zion, hiking up close to the hoodoos and fins, slot canyons and whimsical spires of this fascinating red rock country. Amid all the wonders of this dry high desert, yet another wonder emerged in a gentle valley next to walls of gray Navajo slick rock, a thriving kitchen garden producing vegetables enough to supply a restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill.

HBG from our farmSince 2000 Blake Spaulding and Jennifer Castle, the owners and chefs of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah have been creating breakfasts, lunches and dinners from this garden and from local beef, lamb and pork, eggs, cheeses and fruit, all with the help and support of the Boulder community. Several friends had praised the restaurant, one writing: “I think Debby would be interested in their menu and philosophy.” When we arrived for dinner mid-way through our travels, a sweet, handwritten “From our Farm” sign at the restaurant entrance listed vegetables that would be on the menu. In the dining room pumpkins, braids of garlic and all sizes, shapes and colors of winter squash decorated the ceiling beams and room divider, celebrations of the fall harvest. After a week and a half of desert camping meals that had nearly exhausted our supply of vegetables from home, we realized we’d reached an oasis.

HBG interiorMy Dinner Jenchilada, an enchilada named for Jen Castle, was farm pumpkin “rolled in organic corn tortillas, baked in a spicy sweet corn habanero cream sauce” surrounded by roasted chunks of delicata squash and sweet red carrots, curls of zucchini & pueblo brown rice pilaf. Scott’s Spicy Green Chile Juniper Lamb Posole, “shredded Boulder-raised lamb shoulder” came with a brown sugar corn muffin to crumble into the flavorful broth. Revived by this wonderful food, we knew we needed to return the next morning for breakfast.

Scott ordered the Breakfast Jenchilada, a morning version of the amazing dinner entrée: “corn tortillas, torn and toasted, smothered in an authentic red chile sauce with jack cheese served with a sage potato pancake brown rice & beans, and a just-made flour tortilla.” Still craving vegetables, I ordered the Blaker Standard, “two poached farm eggs on brown rice with sautéed greens and our poblano crema” and thoroughly savored the sautéed chard that surrounded the eggs and rice.

By this point, the only thing that could increase my happiness would be seeing the garden that produced this food. “Of course,” our waiter said when we asked if it would be possible to visit the garden. “We love people to visit.” He gave us a map.

HBG gardenFramed by the gray Navajo slick rock formation known as the Sugar Loaf, rows of carrots, beets and lettuce stretched out lush and green. A farm intern watering fruit trees near an irrigation pond offered to show us around. The spicy fragrance of peppers filled the air and our guide pointed to another woman using a torch to burn back pepper plants, explaining that the charred leaves would enrich the sandy soil.  Behind her, corn stalks stood dry and brown, setting off a row of blue/green kale.

HBG pepper torchingIn a hoop house, tiny sprouts of mustards and other hardy greens were just emerging against the sandy brown soil.  Nearby, multicolored corncobs dried on a rack. Brown speckled white beans were also drying in the sun and our guide said that the plan was to grow even more beans for the restaurant in the year ahead.

HBG hoop house

HBG corn cobsHBG beans dryingHere was the farm half of the farm-to-table restaurant, but this farm was blooming in the desert, as odd and puzzling as the fantastic formations of rock and color that define this area and just as magical.

We left Boulder and Hell’s Backbone Grill with a copy of Spaulding and Castle’s With a Measure of Grace: The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant (2004). It’s a cookbook in the sense that it has recipes but even more it’s the story of the forces, natural and spiritual, that have shaped Hell’s Backbone Grill. We’d been relying on David B. Williams’ field guide A Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country (2013) to help us understand the geology and ecology of this region, reading a few pages each night to learn names to describe the formations we were seeing and to understand the natural forces that created them. With a Measure of Grace gave us the same understanding of place, showing through photos and words that the garden and gardeners are one part of a wide community of people all working together to make Hell’s Backbone Grill the magical place it is, every bit as magical as the landscape that surrounds it.

HBG book cover

Persimmon or Rutabaga?

Persimmon & RutabagaDuring the unusually cold weather of the past week, I was visiting family and friends in San Diego so I couldn’t watch nighttime temperatures fall to the twenties and sometimes the teens.  Instead, I was anxious from a distance, reading the weather report and hoping that the extra layers of mulch and the final cover of lumber wrap I’d added before we left were protecting the kitchen garden winter vegetables from damaging cold.

I’m home now and grateful to find that the roots and kale, leeks and Brussels sprouts, mache and even some of the arugula and mustard are OK, all a bit battered but OK.

Kale, Brussels sprouts post freezeWe can continue to enjoy roasted rutabagas, turnips, carrots and parsnips, roasted leeks, sautéed Brussels sprouts, braised kale and celery root salads with hardy greens.  And I do enjoy all of them, but I keep thinking of the salad that our friend Mary served us one lunchtime in San Diego: sweet, crisp slices of bright orange Fuyu persimmons scattered with ruby red pomegranate seeds, walnuts and fresh cilantro, dressed with lime vinaigrette.  It was gorgeous and incredibly delicious.  I can’t get it out of my mind. This is local winter food in Hardiness Zone 10B.  It’s hard not to be envious.

Of course a salad of mache with bits of roasted rutabaga and red apple is pretty and delicious too, a nice winter salad for Hardiness Zone 7B, but those persimmons were special.  Mary gave me a couple to take home and add to my own salad.  Mine was tasty but not so delicious as hers was.

Persimmon Mache salad

“Could I grow persimmons here on Lopez?” I asked my “I’ll-try-to-grow-anything” friend Carol and of course her answer was yes, qualified by the requirements of variety and south-facing wall microclimate.  Or, she teased me, faced with the choice between rutabaga and persimmon I could simply say “Don’t worry about me, I’ll just have the rutabaga.”

So I’ve gone to the Raintree Nursery site to see what persimmon varieties they offer for the northwest.  There are one or two that might work.  We are entering that dreamy time of seed ordering and the New Year’s garden planning so why not imagine it?  And if I don’t get a persimmon tree or two, there are always rutabagas or even better another winter visit with Mary.