Friday, June 21, 2013

Re-Growing Kitchen Scraps

So I've heard a bit of a buzz about regrowing store bought romain hearts and I wanted to give it a try.  And you know what?  It works!
Three Budding Romain Hearts
I started them on my windowsill, but when some of them started to grow a little mold, I moved them outside to the garden where they have done very well!
Romain Hearts Get a Second Chance
I've learned a few things though.  If you keep them inside, try to give them a bit of sun.  Change their water when it gets yellow.
And if you cut them too short, they end up taking longer to grow, and when they do grow, it's in kind of a funny way.  I'm definitely keeping this guy to see what he does.
I've tried with different little artisan heads, and they all seem to do well.  I'm so in love with this idea, I plant a head or two a day.  

Apparently, you can do the same thing with lots of different vegetables!  I tried leeks. I cut them too far down and damaged the center of the leaves (Does that make sense?  I cut into the part that holds all the leaves all together. When you cut, you want to see the tiny leaves all the way to the center of the lettuce or leek). It started sprouting more roots, but it started attracting bugs so I ditched it. I'm trying again this week and will let you know if it works!

Here are some vegetables I hear tell you can re-grow:
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Bok Choy
  • Basil (I have done that. Just take your little basils out of the plastic and put them in water and they grow roots! Even if you don't plant them, they stay much fresher much longer.)
  • Sweet Potato
  • Potato (Melissa? Nonie?)
  • Avocado (?!)
  • Leeks
  • Pineapples (just cut and plant the top, although I guess it takes a couple years. Fun to have a pineapple plant, though!)
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Fennel
  • Scallions
  • Lemongrass
  • Cabbage
  • Tomatoes/Peppers (anything with seeds)
And also, if it has seeds... (this is probably illegal) try planting them!  I was frustrated that my pepper seedlings weren't coming up, so when I was cutting a store bought pepper, I just plopped all the seeds in a little pot with some good dirt and they came up!  Wow!  (You can tell I'm new to this garden thing, I'm surprised every time I put a seed in the ground and up comes a plant.)
Happy First Day of Summer!
I'm sure there is some kind of spiritual analogy here: one eternal round . . . born again . . . circle of life? I guess that will be another post. That Meredith will probably write.

Have you given new life to any of your kitchen scraps?  What has worked and what hasn't?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fast and Delicious Hummus Recipe

I lived four summers in Jerusalem as part of my graduate work, which means that to date I have probably personally consumed 10-20 gallons of hummus.  Maybe more!  In the Middle East, hummus is a staple of life, to the extent that there are dozens of jokes and idioms centered around hummus.

Aside from being delicious, hummus is full of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.  Plenty of garlic and lemon and you have a veritable superfood!

I have dined in many a Jewish or Palestinian home and partaken of exquisite homemade hummus.  The result is that I just can't be satisfied by anything store-bought here in the states.  (Especially when you look at that ingredient list and see a mass of items that do not contribute to the texture, taste, or nutrition of the hummus.)

I have finally found a recipe that I love, and it's the easiest one I've ever tried too!  Once the beans are soaked and cooked, which only takes about 5 active minutes, it only takes 5 minutes to throw it all together!  Thanks to Kitchen Stewardship for posting the original recipe.  Here it is with my own modifications and notes, including details of soaking.

1. Soak the Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas)

I get Organic Garbanzo Beans in bulk from Azure Standard.
To eliminate anti-nutrients that interfere with proper digestion (ahem...and in the case of beans that come with uncomfortable consequences), soak the beans overnight before making your hummus.  It's so easy!  For this recipe, soak 1.5 cups of uncooked beans --- which will yield about 3 cooked cups.  Cover with warm water and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice.  Let sit overnight (on the counter is fine).  Soak 12-24 hours.

Beans will almost double in size during soaking.

2. Cook the Garbanzo Beans

Start early!  This can take a few hours, though it goes faster if you have soaked the beans beforehand.  My batch yesterday took 3 hours, but plan for up to 6.

Sorry for the blurry photo.  These are fully cooked garbanzo beans.  You can see how they have split open.
To cook, cover with water (about 2 cups per cup of beans) and add some salt.  Bring to a boil and skim.  Then return to heat and simmer, covered, for 3-6 hours until soft.

I often soak and cook a double batch to have beans on hand for other projects... or for more hummus.  They will last a week in the fridge.  You can also freeze them.

3. Gather the following ingredients

Delicious Tahini (sesame seed butter).  You will need 1/2 cup.
1/3 cup EVOO

3-4 cloves garlic (or if they are small, or if you are like me, 5-6)

Three, count them, three lemons.  (I used all mine up yesterday making... hummus).  I like lemony hummus, but you could probably do just as well with 2.
1.5-2 tsp Sea salt, 2 tsp cumin, a dash of cayenne, and I use a bit of fresh ground black pepper too.  Paprika or Cayenne for garnish.

4. Blend

Combine all of the above ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth!  That's:

  • 1/2 cup Tahini
  • Juice of 3 Lemons
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4ish cloves Garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1.5-2 tsp Sea Salt
  •  2 tsp Ground Cumin
  • Dash Cayenne Pepper (or to taste, or leave it out)
  • Dash fresh ground Black Pepper (ditto)

I crush the garlic into the mix so I don't need to rely on the blender for it.  (Plus, crushing the garlic rather than chopping it breaks the cell walls to release the antibacterial Allicin.)

Actually, I don't use a blender.  Because I am blessed to own a hand blender (also called immersion blender).  Oh I love this kitchen tool.  It cuts dishes-time in half because I can blend right in the serving dish!  If you don't have one, I promise you won't regret the (very reasonable) investment.

So, I combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Then blend until smooth. 

Add half the beans and blend again until smooth.

Add the rest of the beans and blend until smooth.

Add water carefully during the bean-blending process as necessary.  The original recipe calls for 1/3-2/3 cup water from the get-go, but I have found that makes it too runny.  I do add probably 1/3-1/2 cup by the end each time.

Garnish with a few unblended cooked chickpeas, with cilantro, with roasted peppers or tomatoes, and/or with a bit of cayenne or paprika.  Or leave it plain and dig in!

5. Oh my, enjoy

While you are blending hummus, set your husband or kids to work chopping carrots, celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers for dipping!  Way yummier than pita.

So, I made a beautiful batch yesterday, but forgot to take a picture of my final product.  Until after we had already ravaged it.  So here instead is a montage of others' hummus pictures to get your mouth watering.  (Well, the first one is mine).

Oh yum


Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Schedule

Happy Summer!  Abe's school just finished, so we made our big summer plans!  I have always really loved summer, and I get excited about it every year.  In order to make sure we took full advantage of our time, for Family Home Evening, we made a weekly schedule, a daily schedule and a checklist!  

I had to cut the checklist off there, we could have kept going on forever! What's on your Summer Checklist? What are you including in your Daily Schedule?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Gardening Mishaps

I've been gardening year-round for the last three years. I started out completely inexperienced but full to the brim with enthusiasm. When I first got started, I thought, "How hard can it be? Plant the seed, water regularly, maybe sing a little, and harvest!"


I thought it would be fun to sit down and innumerate some of my gardening mishaps, with the hopes that someone else might be spared one or two. I'll sometimes add how the problem might be corrected. If you have any ideas, please chime in!

Here I am mixing my first garden soil, blissfully unaware of the difficulty to come. (Yes, I do shudder at that pelvic tilt... no wonder that pregnancy was such agony!)

I built seven boxes total (check out Ariel's pretty boxes). Sammy helped.

When I put Mel's Mix together for my Square Foot Garden (SFG), I didn't yet have homemade compost and I was not vigilant enough choosing the richest compost mix possible, even though I included a good variety of organic items.

To illustrate, let me tell you a little story about corn. I thought it would be nice to grow my own corn, so I planted 16 seeds in my first garden. They sprouted beautifully.

And they grew beautifully! For a while.

Turns out, they were severely malnourished, as evidenced by my happy harvest:

In fact, that first year, I got a whole crop to match!

Onion, bean, spaghetti squash, pepper, corn, 2 cucumbers(?) and carrot.
I was crying and laughing.

My first compost experience was a pile in the corner of the backyard, which I turned with a shovel.

The mistakes I made composting were really just delayers of the process, namely: not turning it often enough and not always keeping moist enough. Nature will do it's magic regardless, but if you keep it moist and turn it often, you can get a batch of good compost in two weeks. For the last two years, I've been using a tumbler, and I just love it!

The degree to which my plants flourish is directly related to the richness of the compost. I'm still learning!

One of the concepts that drew me to SFG was the idea that you don't have to feed your plants once they're growing because they draw what they need from your amazing compost. Once I realized my plants weren't thriving, I still didn't want to add nourishment because I believed the process should work! Turned out to be my loss.

I now feed my plants as necessary with amendments such as liquid seaweed, blood meal, and magnesium sulfate, to name a few. True that the ideal is to build and nourish the soil a couple weeks before planting (not during the growing), but you gotta do what you gotta do.

I've heard it said that if your plants are strong and healthy, all nutrients in place, pests will not bother them. As someone who believes this principle for human health (building immunity to resist illness), this rings true. But since I don't have plant health down pat, the bugs come. And they ruin a lot of hard work.

Ravaged broccoli

I've tried sprinkling diatomaceous earth (food grade) over my soil. It scratches the insects' skin as they travel across it and they get dehydrated and die. Takes care of most kinds of pests, while being plant, people, and earthworm safe (more info here).

There's also the friendly garden bug trick. This definitely helped when aphids took to my strawberries earlier this season.

I also regularly hand-pick bugs off my plants. You have to keep a pretty close eye on them to notice any new holes in leaves or disturbances.

Many plants attract friendly insects or deter unwelcome pests (e.g. marigolds and nasturtiums deter pests while dill attracts friendly bugs). But that's another post, maybe for when I figure out how to get rid of the opossum that sneaks around my yard at night!

When I first started planting, I definitely under-watered those hot little seeds. Newly planted seeds can't dry out or they won't sprout. Once I got the hang of it, I found I had to water at least twice a day. Just make sure the soil drains well, as seeds don't like to be water-logged.

The more room those roots have, the more they thrive. Here is one of my current cayenne plants in a 10" pot. I gave my backyard neighbor a little cayenne plant a few months ago, and she planted it in a 4" pot she had on hand. My plant is now literally 5 times larger than hers, just because of that extra wiggle room. Okay, her mistake, not mine (but I'm sure I've made it, too).

In fact, I have another cayenne plant in a 6"-deep box, and it is not quite as tall as the one in this deep pot. Same story with my anaheim pepper plants (1 in a pot, 1 in the box). I also have tomatoes planted both in boxes and straight into the earth, and the ones with more room to expand have a slight upper-hand. Those roots really like to stretch!

During my first year, I ordered four strawberry starts from Azure, excited to start a strawberry patch. Those plants did not thrive. Later I realized it was because I didn't free up the roots when I put the plants in the ground. They were stuck in a root ball, and couldn't expand. The next year, I started a strawberry patch from bare-roots.

SFG soil is very friable, and I've found that on the hottest days, water evaporates from the soil fairly quickly, leaving the plants looking wilty. It definitely helps to mulch around the plant a little to keep from having to water as often. Conserves water too. I'd love to explore subterranean watering sometime.

There's a host of things I've learned along the way, sometimes from not doing them:
  • Companion planting: Most plants have both friends and foes in the garden. For example, tomatoes love to be near basil, carrots love peppers, but melons hate potatoes and cabbage hates pole beans. This book looks like a great resource on companion planting.
  • Rotating: Plants should be rotated around the garden to maintain soil health, avert disease, and to confuse those sneaky pests.
  • Loose soil: I have watered away little seeds before because the soil was too loose (even when I used a very light flow of water... though I have made the mistake of using too heavy a flow).
  • Packed soil: On the other extreme, I once packed the soil so tightly in my boxes (to avoid washing the seeds away) that after the seeds sprouted, the roots couldn't expand properly.
Stuck little leeks

I read an article yesterday that made me reconsider the trouble with the box I thought I packed too tightly. That box is located about 6 feet from the wall where my router is located, and apparently (but not surprisingly), it can affect plant growth. Maybe it was a combination.

I thought this meant that before transferring starts, you should set them outside for a day or two so they can adjust to the weather. What it really means is that they should be exposed to the weather little by little, not all at once.  I lost several perfectly wonderful plants by doing this wrong.

That yellowing and withery-ness was not there
before I left them in the hot afternoon sun
and overnight (even with plenty of water).

Fortunately, most of the melons bounced back, as did the zucchinis.

Hope the yellow squash is equally forgiving. They're still in their containers! (It's been at least a month and a half since I got them. I know, I know...)

When it comes to individual plants, I've made too many errors to name. But here are a few:
  • Letting strawberries ripen on the soil (better to use little baskets under fruit as they ripen to avoid mushiness... hint from Viola Diva).
  • Allowing tomatoes and peppers to get sun scald (if scalding looks imminent, you can provide some light covering for the growing fruit, or pick tomatoes early and let them ripen in the window).
  • Not letting potatoes "heal" long enough (or at a cool enough temperature?) before planting. Only three of my fifteen potato plants sprouted above the ground this year (though all the eyes had sprouts when I first covered them). Melissa, Idaho potato girl, what did I do wrong?? ...At least they're flowering this year, which they've never done before.

  • Under-pruning tomatoes, which of course resulted in 
  • Over-pruning tomatoes the next year
  • Not knowing when to harvest garlic. Rather, not seeing the signs I was looking for. Mine never flowered. But they sure smell good, curing out in the backyard.

I think of this ongoing experience as exactly that. Experience. It's been highs and lows, peaks and troughs, summits and dumpsters, wild excitement and biting disappointment all the way through. Sometimes I was a victim of the weather or the critters, but mostly of my own ignorance and inexperience.

But-- my enthusiasm for gardening is resilient and indomitable! It comes back with every seed I plant, every sprout that grows, every plant that flowers, and every good thing I harvest. It's been great!! I've learned a lot from books and websites and friends, but more than anything, I've learned by my own (sometimes hard) experience. What keeps me going is the chance to rejuvenate by connecting with the earth every day. If my family can't find me, I'm probably out back staring at my plants.

I wouldn't trade the journey for the best garden in the world. One day, mine will be just that. :)

I'll just keep planting seeds.