Spring

1000 words on making (and eating) the artichokes

I make the artichokes about once a year. They’re messy and just for me, so. 

But worth it as an annual treat! And I found a recipe that’s pretty much what Mom did so I just follow that, with a couple very minor changes. 

Do you know about eating stuffed artichokes, people who aren't my brothers? It's a little performance you put on for yourself in sensuous leisure. You pull off the outer leaves and scrape the breadcrumbs and bit of soft interior with your teeth. As you go farther in, there are fewer breadcrumbs, but more interior to scrape and enjoy, and you can squeeze a little lemon juice over them if you wish. When you get to the center, where the purple leaves are, you can eat those, but the ends are slightly prickly. Purpleheart
Then! You have an alien encounter that really quite put me off when I was a child. I wish I'd had the opportunity to eat artichokes with my mom when I was an adult so I could tell her I understand now. Mom had a trick of pulling the purple bit up so the next paragraph tells a slightly different story, but I always just eat that part and make myself deal with what comes next.

You see, you next encounter fur. I expect there's an official name for it, but it's fur. It's just a camouflage, though, because beneath it is all good eating, straight to the bottom of the plate. That's where the heart is, and when you scoop up your first taste with a fork or spoon, you'll understand why it is considered a delicacy. Mom managed to pull up the fur with the purple bit, but I always have to scrape it away. I have put the picture of this in a separate link because it's a little off-putting, and if you have the bizarre problem I have with pictures of holes where it feels, rightly or wrongly, that holes ought not to be, you might not like it. 

Now I’m going to tell you about those recipe changes and give you a couple tips in case you want to make them, too. So this isn't the recipe, okay? You click on the link above or below for that. This is just more chatter and a few not-very-good pictures.

First, I just use two artichokes instead of the three called for in the recipe, but the same amount of filling. This is because I can eat one and save one for the next day. A third would be too extra. 

After I stuff the outer leaves, I put some more filling on the top before drizzling oil over them, because Mom did that, plus the filling is delicious. There’s just a little left over to eat greedily while doing the final cleanup. And so that’s why filling for three works for two, for me. 

Mom used a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one of those. The artichokes do need to be snug in the pan and I used to just bake them in a glass dish, but I like this steaming first method better. So since my pan that fits two really wants three to be snug, I just tuck them to the side and add a placeholder. Panchokes
Then I have to switch to a different pan for the oven, but you might have one you can use which doesn’t have handles that would melt. 

As to the ingredients, you can leave out the lemon zest, but I agree with the recipe that it adds a nice brightness, so maybe don’t. (Do not leave out the rubbing lemon juice over the cut areas step.) However, my microplaner adds so much volume to the cheese, I know 1/3 cup isn’t enough. I really add more like 2/3. So it depends, and that’s why many recipes tell you how many ounces to use instead of volume. But if you’re using preshredded cheese from the deli dept. (Not The Can,) maybe just nudge it to 1/2 cup.

Also, Mom used parsley flakes, but I grow my own parsley so I don’t. Well, you may certainly still use parsley flakes, just use only a couple tablespoons that you crush lightly between your fingers, and if it’s very old, please throw it out and buy more. 

To be honest, I tend not to bother with the stems, but they do make good eating if you would like to bother with them. 

Finally, this is a very messy Thing to Do, so now I’m going to tell you about how to proceed so you can stop and tidy and not become overwhelmed.

Following this good recipe, be sure to get out everything you will need and prepare it for use. Well, first you wash your hands—lava le mani.* You can chop your garlic and parsley while the breadcrumbs are browning if you are sure you can keep an eye on them and stir them. They seem like they won’t brown and then all of a sudden are browning like mad, so watch out. Ingredients
While the breadcrumbs are cooling a bit (so the cheese won't melt when you mix it in,) you can clear the garlic and parsley debris, then trim your artichokes. Then, before you make the stuffing, clean up your artichoke mess and rearrange everything neatly, with your pan and lid ready nearby. 

Set your artichokes on a cutting board or wide plate to catch the filling that falls as you stuff. Use that filling to add to the top. Stuffing
Next, if your olive oil bottle seems like it’ll get away from you for the remaining tablespoon, pour just a little oil into a cup and then drizzle it onto the artichoke tops from the cup. 

Then while the artichokes are coming to a boil, which will happen quickly since there’s only a little (well-salted) water and you have the lid on, finish your cleanup, and if you eat any remaining filling greedily, well, that’s just a teaser of what’s to come.
Stuffedartichoke
 *Yes, random pedant, that's just how Mom said it. 


potager de pots: garden update 2

This is the year I turn the yard gardens back over to grass, so I am using two back areas for container gardening, well, same as before, but exclusively in those areas.

Today I spent a lot of time cleaning and organizing the spaces and putting the pots around to be planted over the next four weeks. Here are photos I took; it's not neat or pretty yet, but definitely will be by June. I'll have some tomatoes and peppers, of course, lettuce and chard, onions, a few potatoes, bush beans, and I'm going to try these tiny carrots that can grow in shallower ground. I have flower seed mixes so will see just what comes up, but if I get hold of a little money I'd like to have some dahlias again and a few other interesting flowers. 

Greensnowsurpriselater

Flowersandsuch

Futurebushbeanshome

Tomatoespeppersflowers

Alsosomepotatoes

Tomatobabies


If gardening were baseball...

PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT IN ZONE 6B!

This being, for me, some of the greens, spring onions, a few herbs and flowers. Spring training begins in earnest in about two weeks, by which I mean that's when I'll start some tomatoes and peppers, maybe eggplant. 

Everything has to be in containers this year because this is the year I start letting grass reclaim the gardens for when the lease is up in 2020. So I'll have to decide as well in a couple weeks whether to prepare for beans, carrots, and summer squashes. I will still be able to plant as many annual flowers as I like, regardless of the rest. Groomingthefieldpatented seed starting system

Playersearly prospects

Earlylineupmaking the first cut

Firstwarmupsteam room

Lockerroomout of metaphors: lights ready for post-germination; probably around the time I start the second set of seeds.


perfectly natural

I'm going to do a lot more gardening posts this year, along with just a few sewing and cooking ones, and hopefully an occasional poem.

But for an unofficial official start to the season, I just had to share this. Last Friday I planted some pepper seeds in little starter pods. They were in this plastic container, Pepperboxand today I noticed they were retaining too much moisture in it, so I moved them out.

Look what was left behind! Isn't it just the most? TinypepperbabyIn the first photo, it's along the back wall very slightly left of center.

Here is baby lettuce. Mesclun
I also have baby spring onions and some wee little chardlings. They got late starts, but they'll be just fine.


Seedlings and Friends

Some stuff I got going in the garden. Starting Sunday, the bell and hot peppers, eggplants, and remaining tomatoes in greenhouse can all stay outside full time. Some of the tomatoes are already living outside. All that remains then is to sow some cucumber seed, and hopefully a pumpkin or two. And of course there are cosmos and marigold seedlings out there, and I have some basil to plant with the tomatoes.

CabbageEarly Jersey Wakefield cabbages, two more in a different spot, and red and yellow onions.

CarrotsCarrots, not ready yet to be thinned. I think these are Danvers. I got free Purple Dragon seeds that I'll plant for autumn.

ChardlingsRainbow Swiss Chardlings. There are two more in with the sugar snap peas.

HotpeppersHot peppers from a seed mix. There are five here and six more already in pots.

Lettuce Buttercrunch, red and green leaf lettuce.

MustardTendergreen Mustard. It's said to taste like a mustard/spinach hybrid. I don't remember which kind I had last year.

PeasandleeksTwo varieties of peas, and leeks.

Saladrose Salad Rose radishes. They form a border between the onions and two varieties of snap bean seeds, which I just planted.

Squash One Black Beauty zucchini and two yellow crookneck squashes.

SugarsnapSugar Snap peas and a couple more chardlings.


Quiet anticipation

It's been spring for most of the month. We're expecting a cold spell tonight through Monday, then it all sets off again, colors and scents and tastes. I'd say I can't wait, but I can...because I don't really need to. I have seedlings to mist and plans to reshape and a battle with squirrels, rabbits and deer to prepare for.

Blueandyellow

Crabapple

Hyacinth

Brandywine

Limebasil

Ss100

Sanmarco

Plantroom

Cosmos


with March anticipation

For the more linear-minded readers: I'm talking about two different things here, intermingled. I'm a person who enjoys a certain amount of data, and working numbers, etc., but I also enjoy feeling the soil beneath my bare feet, and watching for signs of renewed life each spring. SedumDon't lose the forest for the trees. 

There are now roughly seven weeks until the frost-free date I go by, April 20. But let me back up. When I moved to New Jersey after six years in Michigan, I was excited to be in zone 7. Some people said I wasn’t, as the USDA Hardiness Zones hadn’t yet been updated, and if a chart says something, well, the chart must be right forever. Chart bedamned; it was easy to tell right off the bat how things would be. This meant for me mainly that rosemary would live through a winter outside. Now the newer zone guide from 2012 calls the areas I lived in 7(a,) because no matter how you wish to view the world, it's all warmer than it was when the old data was used. To be honest, I already grew everything in Mid-Michigan as though it was zone 6, not 5, and other gardeners there did the same. You don't need a chart to tell you everything is growing for nearly seven months instead of less than six, and that some of the plants aren't dying under the winter snow.* 

Now I’m back in zone 6. For refined delineations, just west of me, it’s 6b; the urban heat island of Cincinnati, similar to the areas I lived in NJ, except a little cooler in winter. Here a mile or two east, they call it 6a. This actually means little to me other than not expecting rosemary to last in the ground all winter, so I pot it and bring it in. It's very rarely below zero, but the cold we do get is sustained longer.* And most outdoor planting starts about two weeks later. My in-ground herbs perform the same each year, lasting much farther into the year than I’m told to expect, coming back earlier in the spring in the same manner, but I don’t plant tender annuals earlier because of that, for a couple reasons. Abovetable

First, the soil is rarely ready to be worked until at least the second week of April. April is so agonizing! I stick a thermometer in the ground and watch the soil slooowwwwlllyy rise to above 50 [10] degrees (today, the pots are at 42 [5.5] and the ground is 40 [4.5]) as it also slowly begins turning workable, for putting in carrots, chard, and green beans. This is significantly different from New Jersey, where the soil is very sandy, and warms much faster in spring, though it is not tillable much sooner. The heavier clay-infused soil here is slow to warm, and I grow so impatient waiting for it, I have taken to more and more container gardening each year. I can start a couple weeks earlier that way with some of the things I grow. But that method usually requires more water.

The other reason is that nights here definitely stay cooler for longer into spring, even when the days are very warm. Peppers, in particular, need warm nights in order to grow well. I have three sweet/bell pepper seedlings already going, and planted six from a hot pepper mix and two peperoncinis yesterday, so they might need time in the little plastic greenhouse before beginning life outside sometime in May.

So anyway. Soil temperature and arability, and night air temperatures are my true keys to starting out well in the garden. Based on previous years, I’ve marked my wall calendar with expected tasks I can get done through March and April, and am getting the greenhouse ready for interim housing.

But that’s all data-based stuff,* and what I’m really doing is watching for signs of renewed life outside. Lemon balm appears first, then parsley and mint. I’m hoping to have success with peas this year; never do seem to get many peas, but when the parsley rises, the planting of peas and onions will inaugurate my season of outside pleasures. Newseedlings

PS: Easter dinner in many places has traditionally featured lamb with peas and pearl onions, and mint sauce. Early potatoes with new parsley, perhaps. The tradition is because that’s the fresh stuff available right at the beginning of spring. It’s neat to think about, though I’ve tended to live in areas where an autumn-cured ham was the end of winter holiday tradition instead, on the table with the new stuff just appearing. Isn’t nature awesome? Primrose

Another PS: Sometimes I dream of living in zone 8. I’d breathe better in winter. But I’d have to give up the Cincy Symphony, Jungle Jim’s, and the awesome Mt. Washington St. Vincent de Paul for it. Would I be willing to? …well, yeah. Near water; I like the nature of people who are friends with the sea. But that's drifting back in time to another topic altogether.

*For people who want more details on USDA chart drawbacks: Snow insulates the ground and also helps soil renewal, so some very cold places actually have warmer and richer soil than you might imagine, and stuff grows marvelously there in summer. In some places, the temperature range is so extreme, what grows well can't be predicted by how things go in January. To name two drawbacks to a chart based on low annual temperatures. Planttable

Lemonbalm


The second half of winter is sooo long

Seeds I started a few days ago are coming up nicely. Actually, one of the SS 100s (cherry tomatoes) took off like a rocket overnight, and already needs to be directly under a plant bulb. I wrote to a Master Gardener at the OSU extension office to ask a couple questions about this.

I have seeds arriving shortly from Jung, as well, and I plan to buy only one plant this year from a garden center; a Mr. Stripey or one of the pink Germans. Neither of these produce a whole lot of fruit, but I love them so.  

MixedflowersThis is a pile of mixed annual flowers. It was kind of an experiment. Soon I'll decide what to do with them next.

Eggcartons

Leggyss100

Purplebasil


Bean Popping Day! (the first)

Okay, sort of the second, but really the first.

I love bean popping day! Did you ever plant beans? They do literally, in the literal sense of that word, pop out of the ground after only a few days, and a whole bunch of them do it at once. Like, I had four or five this morning, then eighteen at 3:30, and 26 at 4:30. I planted 48, three different varieties, which is silly, but there we are.

These pictures, I gotta figure a thing out. They have netting over them because of birds, and the phone wanted to focus on that instead of the bean. Anyway.

Woundedbutnotdead

Purpleduo

Purpleup

Waxopening

Waxrevealed

Waxunfurled

Purpleopen