Sunday, October 19, 2014

Killer Kale

This has been an all-around excellent growing season, especially for our cool-weather crops. Despite their slow start, we had cabbages all summer long, and we still have a couple left in the garden that weren't krauted. I am also still snipping side shoots of broccoli (just had some for dinner!), which means that we've been harvesting broccoli for three and a half months now. That's definitely a new record for us. 

But most glorious of all has been our kale crop this fall:

We planted the kale back in August, and it has done very well this season, thanks to our relatively wet and cool summer. The kale above is a Russian variety, although there is also some Swiss chard behind it. This was a bonus round of kale that Kirk put in by transplanting some of the thinnings from the main bed. They totally took off, and now we have almost twice as much kale as we had originally planned.

Our main kale bed (above) is a four by eight foot box of 32 plants. The half on the right are Russian, and the half on the left is a curly dwarf variety. Last year we struggled to get these crops past the seedling stage in the fall because we planted them too late (and during dry spell), but this year we are overrun. 

Although this looks like too much right now, kale serves as our primary leafy green during the winter months. It will survive without protection (and even under the snow!) long after our other greens have given up the ghost. It won't keep growing in the low light and cold temperatures of winter, but it will stay fresh during its dormancy. This amount of kale should be enough to last us through the worst of winter, until spinach puts on new growth in March and lettuce seedlings can get set out in April. 

So we will work our way through it over the next several months. In the meantime, I don't plan on eating much of it at all. It's not at its best yet, and won't be until a frost or two sweetens it. If you don't like kale, be sure to try it from a farm stand after the frost--it's sweet and tender then, because the plants produce more sugar to lower their freezing points. Kale survives so well in part because it produces a lot of sugar in its leaves. I'm not sure why anyone eats it in the summer, actually. Kale is for the winter, just as sure as tomatoes are for the summer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Garden Fresh Bloody Marys

A couple weekends ago we had brunch with a good friend in Boston. This friend is an excellent cook and hostess, so it is sometimes hard to know what to bring to the table. The solution? Our kit for home-grown Bloody Marys:

Turns out that this is the time of year that the ingredients for Bloody Marys are perfectly in season. Well, vodka is always in season, but tomatoes, celery, and horseradish are ready for harvest at the end of summer and into the fall.

To make our kit, we used a box from a set of mason jars, which still had its handy dividers intact. I suppose a more market-minded farmer would make nice wooden divided boxes, but we were mostly concerned with portability.

Anyway, the compartments are stuffed with a bottle of vodka, four quarts of fresh tomato juice (made by running newly-picked tomatoes through the food mill), a whole bunch of celery, some lemons, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce (from the store, but I have designs on making our own some day), a small jar of freshly prepared horseradish, and an even smaller jar of our homemade sriracha.

Here's how I mix up a Bloody Mary. Be warned that I like them flavorful, so you might want to dial back the spice. Or maybe not--if you substitute store-bought horseradish and tabasco, it might not be as spicy as all that anyway.

1. Start with an Old-fashioned glass. Add ice (I like cubes, because they melt more slowly than crushed ice), a tablespoon of horseradish, and about 1/4 teaspoon of sriracha:

I wouldn't recommend store-bought sriracha for this drink because it has a really distinctive flavor. Our homemade version is very spicy, so it's a good substitute for Tabasco, which is the traditional spice. If we didn't have the sriracha, I'd probably just toss in a little slice of raw jalapeño.

2. Add a shot of vodka, top off with fresh tomato juice, and stir well. Then two dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a squeeze of lemon wedge, a dash of ground pepper, and a pinch of salt:

If you have store-bought tomato juice, you can probably skip the salt. 

3. Give it another stir and garnish with a celery stalk:

I like to keep the leaves on, because they add a lot of aroma to your drinking experience. 

As I've mentioned before, if you're having a hankering for a Bloody Mary in the spring but don't have mature celery yet, you can make a Bloody Mary Magdalene by substituting lovage for the celery.

Bottoms up!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October Cleanup

This weekend we finished our major fall cleanup of the garden, removing spent summer fruits and setting up some of the frames for winter tunneling. The garden is a very different place without all those tomatoes:

Also out of the picture are the beans, corn, okra, and all forms of squash. It leaves a lot of empty space:

The newly-empty garden could be depressing, but I always kind of like seeing the clean lines of the raised beds again. After all, they've been obscured by a tangle of vines and greenery for months. It's the return of order after the chaos of abundance, and it's nice to have some breathing room again.

This weekend is also like New Year's Day for the garden, because I planted garlic bulbs (in the bed above). Garlic is one of the first things we planted when we first built these beds, and it was the first of our crops to come full circle in its propagation. This is the fourth planting of garlic, and it means the beginning of the fourth full year of the garden is under way. 

Despite pulling out a lot of plants, we still have some pretty things left for an autumn display. Our long pie pumpkins are curing in the sun by the healthiest calendula I've ever grown. All that orange is just the thing for October…or for as long as it lasts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Yogurt

To continue this month's look at the grocery list, we decided to make a small adjustment to one of our common snacks. From now on we will

Replace individual yogurt cups with a quart of plain yogurt.

With four people eating lunches away from home, we tend to pack a lot of yogurt to take along with us. After all, it's a healthy snack that can cure a craving for something sweet, and it's super-convenient to toss into a lunch box.

Sounds great, but there's a but.

All those little cups are more expensive than buying a big tub of yogurt, and of course there's more plastic involved in individual containers. We recycle them (or use them in the garden to keep cutworms at bay), but it still strikes me as more wasteful than is strictly necessary.

Getting a big container of plain yogurt is more versatile, because we can use it in cooking (think marinades and raita, for starters).

And while it's nice to pick out fun flavors of yogurt, the pre-made kind uses way more sugar than I am likely to mix into plain yogurt on my own. To sweeten a serving of yogurt, we can be creative and use our own jams, maple syrup, or some honey. Kirk suggested adding nuts, and the kids are already talking about the potential Halloween candy mix-ins (ok, so that one's not upping the health value, but I like their thinking).

On to the numbers. Our typical yogurt consumption comes to about 5 individual 6-oz. cups per week. The Chobani ones that everyone likes are $1 each when they're on special at Market Basket, which Kirk says is most of the time. That's 30 oz. of yogurt for $5 a week.

On the other hand, a 32 oz. tub of plain Stonyfield Farm yogurt is just $3.69 at Market Basket, and with this we get 2 oz. of bonus yogurt. (The yogurt in the photo above is not our usual choice, and is left over from the dark days of the Market Basket strike over the summer. This highlights the happy fact that yogurt lasts forever, making the big container a safe investment.)

So in the course of a month, little cups of Chobani would cost us about $20, but one big cup per week of Stonyfield Farm is just $14.76. That's a savings of $5.24 per month, with just a small adjustment of our snacking habits.

Savings per month: $5.50