Thursday, September 19, 2013

September: The Month of Transition

September always seems to be a very busy month. I think partly because as the school year kicks in, we all try to adjust to the demands that go along with it. Soon enough, we will be buckled down and settled into our routines, and the freedoms of summer will be a warm, hazy memory.

And right on cue, as we switch gears into another school year, the temperatures have also shifted, as they always seem to do. The weather in general, seems as if it's teetering on some imaginary tight rope; the line where summer ends and autumn begins. "Indian Summer", as we always used to call it. These new fall mornings have been freezing. But like many younglings, they are weak and easily conquered by the strength of the afternoon sun. It's as if even Mother Nature hasn't fully accepted the notion that summer is over. 

Our Amaranth just beginning to flower.
With this grossly fluctuating weather comes a chaotic upheaval in the garden. I am seeing the faces of life and death in my plants every day. Some, such as Cucumbers and Swiss Chard, have suddenly taken off like crazy and are flourishing in these final fleeting days of warm weather. (I even have a rogue Bok Choy that has grown marvelously, from a dormant seed planted sometime early summer.) And my big experiment of the season, Amaranth, has finally flowered! A huge success and a thing of beauty. And then we have other plants, namely Pole Beans and Edamame, that have quietly passed before my very eyes. Today, I pulled all the Pole Bean plants, that had dramatically withered away to mere skeletons over the course of a week or so. In their stead, I will plant cold-loving varieties of spinach and lettuce. When the temperatures really dip, these crops will get a cold frame shelter, and I will pray they survive the shorter days. 

September, to me, has always been a month of transition. In more ways than one. It is the bridge from one season to the next.

And so the cycle continues. Yet another year.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Kitchen Garden 2013: Late Summer Status Report

Summer in the northeast has settled into a gardener's dream! We had a bout of crazy heat waves early on, that really took their toll on many plants. But finally, the weather has turned to picture-perfect summer days, cooler nights and a couple rainy days thrown in between. And our Kitchen Garden is definitely reaping the benefits as we are watching just about everything flourish. 

With this year's garden, we set out to explore new territory -- we are trying some new plants and some new approaches. Experimentation was the mantra this year. . .and experiment, we did! We grew carrots in containers, with much success. We set up a whole new super tall trellis system for pole beans and snap peas. And we tried growing many things for the first time, including Rutabaga, Amaranth, Watercress and New Zealand Spinach. As for the new approaches, we have been rotating continually since the spring; as something completes its growing season, we pull the spent plants, re-fertilize the soil, and sow new seeds. 

Another main goal this year, is to maintain a true four-season garden. Yes, in February, I fully expect to be walking through snow to harvest fresh lettuce from my garden. I realize this is aggressive, but with the use of cold frames and some hearty mulch, I am confident we can do it. Plus, I am an optimist.

For now, I'd like to document a status report of the Kitchen Garden as it stands in this last week of August. It's been an exciting season, and we have seen some great successes. I also offer a cataloge of the plant varieties we're using, along with some notations regarding how each has fared in our magical little garden. 

Current view of The Kitchen Garden
from the Perennial Garden
(in the foreground)

In just a couple months, the garden has
filled out so nicely. 

Current garden (right) hosts plants in all stages of growth.
(The empty looking patch in the middle is actually
brand new arugula  and radishes)

The new bean trellis fashioned out of
bamboo poles and twine; a great success. 

We are harvesting tons of beans every day.. .

 .  .. ..some larger than others!!

Otto loves them all. 

Cool how the string bean plant has wrapped
around the trellis many times. 
Yankee Bells looking good. 

Cubanelles have done exceptionally well;
measuring over half the height of the
plant itself!

Younger planting of Swiss Chard
at forefront, trellis of cukes at back.

Cukes are growing like crazy!

Fully matured.

Edamame - grown from our neighbor's
own seeds.

Highly experimental amaranth!
If the growing season is long enough,
this plant will get to be 4' tall with long tentacles of seeds
(which we eat as "grain"). The leaves themselves
are actually the most nutritious. 

Our bounty of Kale with New Zealand Spinach
in the foreground along the stone wall.

New Zealand Spinach is not actually a spinach.
It is resistant to heat which makes it a desirable alternative
in the hot months when true spinach tends to bolt.

Caro Rich heirlooms coming in nicely;
An orange tomato with 7x more
beta carotene than other tomatoes

Tomatillo husks starting to fill out

Amazing patch of Swiss Chard. 

Beautiful Beets and Beet Greens. 

Baby Aerostar Lettuce

A giant Collard plant! The leaves
measure almost 2 feet. 

A gorgeous head of cabbage.
Our first spring plantings succumbed to
cabbage magots. This was a product of
the second planting that fared much better.

First time doing carrots. These were grown
in a container and did very well. . ..

. . ..except that 80% of them have been what
Otto calls "leg carrots". An odd

We have had a few special visitors to the garden this season:

A Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmiga Lignaria)
which was quite the treat, since I love bees!

Can you spot her? A praying mantis!!
And to the left, her recently shed skin.

A bountiful harvest last week.
A couple "leg carrots" and the near end
of the beets. 

As we are getting later in the growing season,
we are foraging for space wherever we can.
At times, it looks like a jigsaw puzzle
out there!

2012-2013 Kitchen Garden Varieties
(Note: all seeds organic; * indicates an heirloom variety.) 

Arugula (var. Astro) - has done great; kind of quick to bolt
Pole Bean (var. Kentucky Wonder*) - very successful! huge beans close to 12" long!
Beets (var. Detroit Dark Red*) - the perfect beet! easy to grow.
Bok Choy (var. Shanghai Green) - tricky business. ok as baby bok choy, but don't mature well
Broccoli (var. Diplomat) - no luck.
Cabbage (var. Summer) - cabbage magots got the 1st round, 2nd round did well
Carrots (var. Napoli) - excellent in the containers; 2nd round in the garden bed -- we'll see!!
Collards (var. Champion) - beautiful collards. slow starting, then took off like crazy producing giant greens.
Cress (var. Belle Isle) - zero luck! planted in two different spots. may try different variety next year.
Cucumber (var. Green Finger) - doing excellent! hearty plant with tons of fruit! easy to train to trellis.
Edamame - gift of my neighbor's saved seeds. plants smaller than i've seen previously, but lots of pods! still maturing. 
Kale (var. Winterbor) - excellent. hearty plants from early-on, resistant to pests. 
Kohlrabi (var. Korridor) - spring crop did great. planted 2nd round late summer for fall harvest.
Lettuce, Crisphead (var. Aerostar) - lovely lettuce. resistant to bolt, harvested all through the heatwaves!
Bell Peppers (var. Yankee Bell) - very successful. each plant producing many thick-walled peppers!
Cubanelle Peppers - also very successful.
Snap Peas (var. Cascadia) - miracle peas. original spring plants produced new flowers/peas through height of summer!
Radish (var. Cherry Belle*) - these did great. 
Rutabaga (var. Joan*) - planted for fall harvest. . we'll see!
Spinach (var. Bloomsdale Long Standing*) - 20% success rate. not easy to grow, but plants that established were very heat resistant. 
New Zealand Spinach - awesome! a perennial gift from my neighbor. looking forward to see what it does next year.
Swiss Chard (var. Fordhook Giant*) -  very successful. nice thick leaves. -- large. grew like weeds. 
Tomatillo - plant established very well; fruit still growing in the husk. 
Tomato, Cherry (var. Black Cherry) - doing very well. 
Tomato (var. Caro Rich*) - doing very well, a bit of heat wave evidence
Tomato (var. Large Red*) - doing well 
Tomato (var. Big Boy) - doing well 
Turnip (var. Purple Top Globe*) - planted for fall harvest. . we'll see!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

**New & Improved** Kale Chips

The past few years, our garden has seen quite the overabundance of kale. So much so, that I have become quite creative in what I do with this power green. Personally, I love to munch on it raw (and oddly enough, so does the two-year-old of the house!) But I have also dabbled in making kale chips. Very simply, I would rip the kale into bite size pieces, put them on a baking sheet, spray with olive oil and season as desired (usually with garlic powder and a pinch of salt). Fairly strong in kale flavor, and rather fragile -- these chips were pretty decent, and they were well-received by family and friends. 

However, a few months ago, I decided to give the kale chips from the health food store a try. I was expecting to taste something similar to what I have been making out of my own kitchen. Boy, was I in for a surprise! They were thick and crunchy, and so full of flavor and zing. They were completely dairy free and raw to boot. Better than any potato chip I had ever tasted. 

I have been hooked ever since. But staying in line with my Zero Processed Food Diet (and to save some moola -- these chips are $7.00 for a single serve bag!), I decided it was time to learn how to make this tastier version myself. Here's what I have figured out: kale, upon baking or dehydrating, will disintegrate to almost nothing. It will dry out to the fragile state to which I had been so accustomed. To counteract this, it must be coated in something that will hold it's body, even after the kale has been dried. Many recipes will call for a nut-based paste in which the kale is dredged, and then dehydrated (or cooked way way low in the oven) for several hours. This is a time consuming process, but it really is worth it in the end. I have experimented with a lower fat, lower calorie version, replacing half of the nuts with garbanzo beans and reducing the amount of olive oil. But below is the original recipe that I had arrived at through all my research:

Kale Chips

(makes enough for about half a bunch of kale)

3/4 cup soaked cashews (soak for at least 1 hour)
1/2 red bell pepper
2 cloves carlic
2 tablespoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 lemon, juice of

- Use a dehydrator or use your oven at the lowest temperature 
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper
- Tear kale off stems into bite size pieces (don't use stems)
- Blend all the "Paste" ingredients in blender until very smooth
- Dredge kale pieces in mixture until fully covered 
(the paste consistency should be loose enough to just be able to run off a spoon. if it's too thick thin with Bragg's or lemon juice)
- Bake or dehydrate until crisp and completely dried out
the dehydrator will take at least over night, my oven at 200 takes approx. 3 hours

Mama's helper, tearing the kale into pieces

The finished paste

Coated kale ready for the oven!

Finished product!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rubber Bands.

"A rubber band is powerful, powerful. . .."
- "Rubber Band" Shonen Knife

Anyone that knows me, knows that I can't live without safety pins. I've probably had a few posts on here that are somewhat related to the glorious safety pin. And at any given time, if you check my desk drawer or my purse, you are certain to find at least one of these life necessities floating around somewhere. My mother has often said that I hold my life together with safety pins (thanks, Mom!). And as sad as this all may sound, it's pretty much the truth. 

As wonderful as safety pins are, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a new love of mine: the rubber band!

I have been using these stretchy little gems in some very handy ways as of late. Check it out. . .

Who needs to buy fancy hangers to help
keep the clothes from slipping off?
Rubber bands will do the trick
on any ol' hanger! Personally,
I think they look kinda neat. 

I love how a simple rubber band
will keep all the pens organized in our
kitchen counter "bill box".
Oooh, and look! What's that
holding together packets of
vegetable seeds? :)

And rubber bands are so cheap! In fact, I don't even buy them. I just save the ones that bind together my produce (all the bunches of carrots, heads of lettuce and florets of broccoli in the market are held together with rubber bands). 

And so it seems I am now holding my life together with safety pins AND rubber bands! Whether or not this is progress, remains to be seen.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Kitchen Garden 2013: New & Improved

Cherry Belle Radish
just starting to sprout!
Two weeks ago, we did our first spring planting of the kitchen garden. Since we weren't out of danger of frost at the time (nor are we as I write this), we put in only those things that could withstand a light frost. Tiny, yet hearty plants such as Winterbor Kale, Diplomat Broccoli, Champion Collards and Summer Cabbage found their way into The Maplewood's good earth. In addition to these plants, we also sowed several types of lettuce and greens seeds (including Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, Shanghai Green Bok Choy, Astro Arugula, Belle Isle Cress & Aerostar Crisphead Lettuce) along with a few choice roots (Cherry Belle Radish, Purple Top Globe Beets & Napoli Carrots), Cascadia Snap Peas and a favourite in our house . .. Korridor Kholrabi.

Quite the garden is already underway. In fact, we already have many sprouts coming up! Of note is the Cherry Belle Radish, which has fulfilled it's promise to be a quick germinator. If we play our cards right, we could be harvesting these sweet lil' babies all throughout spring, summer and even into fall.

As I was reviewing the crops from previous years and reminiscing of harvests past, I came across some old photos of our very first kitchen garden at The Maplewood. In just a few short years, it really has come a long way, evolving into quite the urban agricultural undertaking. Just look at how it's grown (errr. . literally!). Almost triple in size from the original strip that was planted a few years back. 

It's hard to tell from the photo (above, right), but the garden has been organized into sections to allow for constant planting throughout the season. I'm using an online Garden Planner tool to help with the coordination effort. Below is a snapshot of how the garden has been laid out, for the full season, using the Garden Planner program. I'd say about 60% of these plants/seeds are in! And as plants are picked or exhausted, we'll be re-sowing and rotating crops, to ensure a continual harvest throughout the season. 

In a few weeks tomato, pepper and tomatillo plants will be going in, so stay tuned! I'll be updating as the garden grows. . ..

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Swedish Designers & . ... What's After P333?

Ever since I stumbled upon the amazing Swedish designer, Ewa i. Walla, I have been totally obsessing. By now, I think I have the entire Spring/Summer 2013 line memorized (and the prices too. . OUCH!). Her line of clothing is inspired by 18th century Swedish farm culture. The vibe is ethereal and dreamy . . .and, at times, extreme fairy tale. Ewa creates the unexpected and extraordinary, simply by using ordinary, natural mediums (cotton, linen, silk, wool, organdy) adorned in traditional methods, such as hand embroidery, ruffle work and lace tatting. Ewa i. Walla clothing is so steeped in old European tradition, which in itself is unique. This is why her designs exude a sense of antiquity, while somehow achieving a modern edge, all at the same time.

Admittedly, full-on Ewa can be over-the-top. But I think in small doses, these pieces can mesh nicely, and add a bit of spark, to my current day-to-day wardrobe. Besides, I can only afford a few select pieces, and so I've started with some basics to build off, per suggestions from Ewa i. Walla's UK agents. You see, what makes this even trickier than just navigating the price point, is that you can't buy her clothing in the States, so there is no way for me to try on any of these pieces or even see them in person. And so I'm left to work closely with the UK agents, who have been more than willing to help. (If you ask me, since Ewa i. Walla garners such a cult following, the seasoned "Ewa Kids" sincerely enjoy helping the new fledglings find their Ewa wings; a mentorship of sorts, in an almost secret club.)

And now, what makes this all even MORE trickier, is that once my current Phase 3 of Project 333 concludes next week, I will begin transitioning into a new capsule wardrobe project. This time, I will be living with only 52 items (which includes outerwear, accessories, shoes) for an entire year! This is an idea my friend Bev had mentioned awhile back. I was immediately on board. I don't have a definitive start date for this new Project 5212, but I am aiming for mid-May. As you might imagine, I am in a planning frenzy right now trying to figure out how to make this all work, and how my new Ewa i. Walla pieces will play with the rest of my year-long wardrobe. Truth be told, her clothing will undoubtedly lend themselves perfectly to this new project, since it is all designed to be worn in layers and to be worn in a variety of ways. 

But enough of that. For now, just take a peek at some of the otherworldly designs of Ewa i. Walla. .  ..


” The feel of fabric is everything to me.   The tactile experience is what inspires me. My clothes are nothing but perception…”
- Swedish clothing designer 

Friday, March 29, 2013

. . .a Four Season Kitchen Garden??

Spring is here, and a new and improved kitchen garden is in the works at The Maplewood. While last year's garden yielded plenty of gorgeous and tasty veggies and herbs, we seemed to be harvesting for only short stints throughout the growing season. Not to mention, our zucchini plants got hit with the deadly Squash Vine Borer (for the second season in a row!) and we lost all our zukes and yellow squash plants early on.

This year, we have some new strategies in place! I'm very excited to be playing a major role in the planning and coordination of this season's garden. One of the main goals of our upcoming garden, is to extend the growing season and ensure we are harvesting continuously throughout the entire season. Ideally, I'm actually aiming to create a true four season garden! If done properly, utilizing deep mulch and cold frames, we could be harvesting lettuce in the middle of January. . how exciting! By maximizing the potential of our small plot, we will greatly reduce how much produce we need to purchase over the year. But of course, this will take a lot of planning and coordination.

The Kitchen Garden status as of 03/28/13
. . ..after a long, hard winter
I've already started the layout and planning process of the garden, using an awesome online planning tool I stumbled upon, called Vegetable Garden Planner. The Vegetable Garden Planner seems like the perfect tool to help with the logistics of staging many different crops over an extended period of time. And as I plan and research potential contenders for the upcoming garden, I am also ramping up for some physical work outside. As the ground thaws, it's now time to begin preparations of the soil. Research continues on what amendments will best serve our particular soil conditions, and over the next few weeks, the actual clean up will begin.

I realize that the plans for this season's garden are lofty, but I'm confident we can achieve all this and more.
It's going to be a long row to hoe, but it will be well worth it in the end!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Project 333, Phase 3: The Lookbook (In Front of the White Door)

Thanks to our camera's self-timer, and a handy little Joby, I was able to document 50 of my outfits during this current phase of my Project 333. Quick lil' snapshots "in front of the white door", these aren't the greatest photos (although I tried to mix things up with my poses, which are mildly entertaining, in and of themselves). Documenting this phase is key. I set out with one primary goal: to achieve maximum flexibility and style diversity, using ONLY my very limited 33 selections -- which include accessories, shoes and outerwear! (For a full list of my 33 items, see Project 333, Phase 3: The List.)

As I flip through this Lookbook, I am satisfied that I have compiled a complete visual summary, representing the breadth of styles/moods/looks this minimal wardrobe can achieve. And I think I was successful in doing what I set out to do. Take a look for yourself. 33 Items . . .countless possibilities!

.....Thanks for looking!