Category Archives: Gardening

Life is Good

My motto for the summer is “Life is Good”. For one, this simple motto is a basic truth that applies. For another, my weekend wardrobe features a variety of “Life is Good” T-shirts. I just love their cute designs and the sentiments.

With the unofficial start of summer, our frequent weekend destination is our lake cottage in Maine. Weekends have a busy, yet leisurely, agenda:

  • Waking up slowly with a book
  • Multiple walks with Bella (the dog)
  • A gardening project or two
  • Swimming, canoeing or kayaking, or all three
  • Lots of cooking
  • An outing for ice cream or a visit to a local farm stand or the lobster truck

We made it an extra-long weekend, going up for four days, three with perfect weather. On the cool and cloudy day, we made a trip into Portland, only half an hour away. I was craving the best French fries in the world at Duckfat. Plus, Portland is a great city to wander around.

Duckfat has gotten incredibly popular since our last visit. The wait was 45 minutes to eat inside. For the brave, there was no wait to eat outside. We weren’t dressed appropriately, but we also weren’t patient, and I couldn’t be deterred from my fries. We ate outside. The waitress was savvy and offered us hot drinks while we waited for our food. I had a duck confit panini, and Howard ordered a corned beef tongue Reuben. We shared a cone of frites (fried in duckfat, of course). I can’t say enough about how good those fries are. It was worth braving the elements to avoid the wait.

Other highlights of our Portland excursion were:

  • A visit to Rabelais, a unique cookbook store, both new and used. I was excited to find the book Good Meat by Deborah Krasner for sale. I had heard an interview with the author and knew this book was for us. This book is a wealth of information about sustainable meat, how to find it, how to buy it, and how to cook it. It’s now part of our library.
  • They weren’t sold out of Morning Buns at Standard Bakery, so we picked some up for the next day’s breakfast

As I said, the weekend’s objective is typically lots of relaxation with some projects and cooking mixed in. For a project, I tackled one of the front garden beds. I have a tendency to let flowers go a little wild, even when they don’t belong. I made good progress, in spite of the oppressive humidity and the mosquitoes and black flies. See:

Before

After

We also ate very well. I made two stand-out salads. I also found fiddleheads at the farmstand. The season is all but over, so this was a lucky break.

The first salad is a favorite spring-time potato salad, best served warm. It is a sort of mixture of potato salad with leeks vinaigrette. When asparagus is in season, it’s a must. I love the combination of the sharp tang of the mustard, the silky leeks, the grassy asparagus, and the earthy potatoes. The color is also a great green.

Potato Salad with Leeks and Asparagus
Adapted from this recipe from Food & Wine magazine
Serves 6

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1 lb red potatoes
½ lb asparagus,, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch lengths (rinsed well)

In a jar, combine the mustard, vinegar, and oil. Shake well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scrub the potatoes, and pierce each one a few times with a fork. Place a steamer basket in a medium pot. Fill the pot with water, to just below the bottom of the basket. Place the potatoes in the basket. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and steam the potatoes for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer.

At the same time, bring another pot of water to a boil. Cook the asparagus and leeks for 5 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with vinaigrette.

After potatoes are cooked, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut in half or quarters, then ½-inch slices. Pieces should be about 1 x 1 x ½ inches. Add to the vinaigrette and gently combine to coat with dressing. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Best served warm.

Howard had grilled some sweet Italian sausages, so I used one link in a Spanish-inspired rice salad. Short or medium-grain rice, like arborio, would have been even better, but my Maine pantry isn’t as well stocked. This could be a side dish, though we ate it as the main event for lunch one day.

Rice Salad with Spanish Flavors
Serves 4-6

1 cup long grain rice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

1 link sweet Italian sausage, cut lengthwise into quarters, then ½-inch slices
½ cup roasted pepper strips
¼ cup chopped olives
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Cook the rice according to package instructions.

Add the oil and vinegar to a jar. Shake well until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the rice is cooked, transfer to a large bowl. Gently toss warm rice with the vinaigrette and the remaining ingredients until well combined.

And, finally, the fiddleheads. These are a special treat, so they called for a simple preparation that wouldn’t overshadow the vegetal flavor of these ostrich fern sprouts. I just parboiled the fiddleheads, drained them and dried them, then did a quick sauté in with minced garlic. I find the flavor of fiddleheads to be mildly reminiscent of asparagus, but not exactly. If you’ve never had them before, I recommend that you look out for them next spring and try them!

Sauteed Fiddleheads
Serves 2

½ lb fiddleheads
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, trim off the base ends of the fiddleheads and rub off any brown membranes. When the water is boiling, add the fiddleheads and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the fiddleheads, and cook until warmed through and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

Spring Has Arrived

I finally feel like the transition to spring is here. Sure, we’re still having some chilly evenings, but it’s finally feeling more like it’s warmer than it’s colder. My twice-weekly exercise class made its move from inside the high school field house to an outdoor field last week. The first morning it was 55 degrees, though the second morning, it was 20 degrees colder. It might be time to turn the heat off for the season soon.

Now that spring is in the air, the garden is starting to come alive. I still have some snowdrops lingering. The crocus is over, but the first early tulips and my first two daffodils opened this weekend. Chionodoxa has naturalized on the edges of the lawn which makes me smile.

Yesterday, I cleared out the herb bed and found the chervil volunteers, chives, and tarragon poking up green shoots. The lemon balm, oregano, mints, winter (perennial) savory, and sage are still dormant, but alive. The thyme didn’t make it, so I will get some replacement when I purchase the annual rosemary and lemon verbena to round out the mix.

As for food plants, the gooseberries, currants, and blueberries are starting to leaf out. The raspberries and blackberries haven’t gotten started yet, but I’m sure they aren’t far behind. I forgot to check whether the rhubarb is starting to poke up and unfurl but it should be starting. We planted a bed of peas a few weeks back (under the Remay cloth) but no sign of germination yet.

We’re trying a new approach with the lettuce and radishes this year. Check out my latest planter. It’s a 10-foot section of gutter that I spray-painted and Howard hung on the back of the garage. I planted microgreens, arugula, and mesclun mix along with a mix of radishes and some watermelon radishes. These are all shallow growers, so the gutter shouldn’t hinder them. The added benefit is that the height will keep my tender seedlings out of reach of the bunnies living in that corner of the garden. (Next project is to paint that plywood another bright color.)

A seasonal change is a change in more than weather but in what we eat. I’m just finishing up the last of our Winter CSA vegetables, storage vegetables obviously. There are still a couple of butternut squash left and a couple of pounds of beets.

I used up the last of the beets in a simple but delicious soup. Roasted beets combined with sautéed red onion in chicken stock with a smidge of cream. The whole mixture gets processed in the blender for a smooth, magenta puree. The color is wild. The taste is sweet and earthy and more complex than its short list of ingredients. I’m certainly happy to be saying goodbye to winter, but this soup was an excellent sendoff!

Cream of Beet Soup
Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s Back to Square One

2 lbs beets
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
¾ cup light cream (or half-and-half)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the beets well. Place the unpeeled beets in a roasting pan, add about ½ inch of water to the pan. Cover with foil and bake for one hour or until the beets are tender. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skin off.

Cut 1/3 of the beets into julienne and set aside. Dice the remaining beets.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Lower the heat and add the onion. Cook until tender and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the stock and diced beets. Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 10 more minutes.

Puree the soup in the blender until smooth. Return puree to the saucepan. Add the cream and stir to mix in completely. Season to taste.

To serve, ladle warmed soup into bowls and garnish with the julienned beets.

You could dollop with sour cream, but it’s delicious plain.