it’s business time


“Have fun!” he said, clean as a whistle and handsome in his slicker as he pedaled away jauntily on his English three-speed.

“Can’t wait to see you tonight!” she said, equally vigorously, drenched and covered in compost mud.  She waved her shovel in the air as he sped down the street.  He didn’t look back.

out like a lamb: my garden in march


An early spring garden gallery for you.  My chives among the allium have overwintered, and are starting to send up little chive flower stalks.  My magic tarragon made it through the winter, too.


The artichokes were pretty much vaniquished by the snow, I thought, but they’re already back and going like gangbusters.  The rosemary stands sentinel, and the strawberry patch regroups.


Kitty + lovage shoots next to the artichokes = kitty lovage.  A wild pansy surveys the strawberry patch, thinking thoughts in French.



To me, there is no more glorious sight than a big patch of dirt in March.  It’s not a great image, but you can see the rosemary and one artichoke immediately in front of the shed.  Boris is the dark blotch to the left (where the lovage grows), and the herb garden, allium patch, and strawberry patch are in the rows closest to the shed.  The dark areas of soil are where I built out the six rows another foot, and the woodchips mark my new path on the south side of the garden.  The north side still needs woodchips for a similar path.  The metal structure on the bottom left is part of my pea support.

Behind the photographer (yours truly) is the potato and fennel row, and the cane berries (raspberries, blackcaps, and a new tayberry), and my little elderberry shrub.  The shed hides my new rhubarb, a wormwood plant, and jerusalem artichokes.


Let the games begin!

seeds for lasagna master gardener victory compost

As yet another sign our vegetable love is growing vaster than empires and more fast, the White House breaks ground for its Victory Garden today.  Good luck, Mrs. Obama, with your first dig!

I love the way we’ve taken back the concept of Victory Garden in 2009.  Victory Gardens were marketed in WWII as a means to support the war effort by growing your own food so the government could devote more national resources to war.  Now, of course, we’re devoting our taxpayer dollars to bonuses for executives and, um, war.  But at least we’re not telling people to grow vegetables to support jingoistic nonsense.  Progress?  Hm, not so sure.

Out here in Eugene, we’re all about amending soil right now.  Food for Lane County’s Grass Roots Garden, which gleans food and paper scraps from local businesses to produce tens of thousands of pounds of food for Lane County hunger relief, recently taught composting to the Master Gardener trainees.  Lasagna, anyone?


Lasagna or sheet composting is a method of cold composting, where layers of nitrogen and carbon material slowly break down over a 4-6 month time frame.  I snapped this shot during a demo at Grass Roots, and have never felt so inspired by garbage.  Now, I’ve got my own lasagna beds in the works.  Puttin’ ’em in before my husband gets home from his business trip and sees what I’ve done to his lawn.

Last year, I had soil shipped in for my raised beds, and I’ve been integrating compost and organic matter all year, so I’m hoping it will be all right.  Peas, potatoes, rhubarb, fennel, garlic, artichokes, lovage, and leeks are all doing well so far, as are the berries.  I’ll be expanding my beds this year by a foot or two in length, and am considering putting in two more rows.  I’ve always been a hobby gardener, having fun in the dirt and not really caring if all my crops turn out, but I’m becoming more serious about produce yield and feeding our family from our garden, so I’m going to be more careful this year.

To that end, I’m finishing up my Master Gardener training program this week with the certification test.   I’m really excited to start helping other gardeners when I return from my trip to Buffalo in April.   I startled myself (secretly) at my volunteer shift at the home show last weekend when I realized I actually know something about gardening now.  It was a great pleasure to talk to dozens of people about vegetable gardening in Lane County.

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, you can buy choices someone else picked out for you, something like Territorial’s clever pot of seed packets for a complete garden, or a pack of starts that allow you to transplant a group of vegetables.  If you are new, please take my advice: you don’t want seeds.  Try the starts this year, and invest that extra cash in good soil, organic fertilizer and compost.  Log House Plants in Dexter, OR, has developed “Grab and Go” start packs geared toward our finicky summer conditions in the PNW.  They don’t have them listed yet on their website, so I’ll quote from their newsletter:

Grab & Grow, a new series of regional vegetable gardening kits.  After talking to nursery owners and expert gardeners from all over the Northwest, we’ve designed several collections for each region, with varieties chosen for flavor, productivity, and ease of care for a novice gardener.  Each convenient half flat contains a carefully chosen mix of vegetable varieties, along with detailed planting and growing information.

I love this idea.

It’s also worth slowing down and growing only a few things in your Victory Garden.  Like lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, and hot peppers.  You can make a killer pesto at summer’s end with a few basil plants, for example, that would be lovely on your tomatoes.  Zucchini is easy to grow if you have space, too.  Then you can be one of those people begging friends to take your squash, please, at the end of the summer.  Good times.

If you’re interested in learning how to compost and you live near Eugene, check out Extension’s Compost and Worm Bin Composting Classes.  They’re cheap as dirt (heh), free for the compost classes and nearly free for the worm bin classes since you get equipment and worms with your fee.  If you haven’t taken any classes with Lane County Extension, you’re missing out!

to do: gardening and giving away beans


I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get in a bit of gardening today before the rains return.  I’m on a strict schedule of only doing two gardening tasks a day, or else I’d spend all my time out there.  Yesterday, for example, I pruned my raspberries and grape vines. Today, it’s roses and ornamental quince.

So I’m just popping in to say…

Don’t forget to enter The Great Dried Bean Giveaway of 2009 — tomorrow is the drawing!  You can win two pounds of delicious, fresh Willamette Valley legumes from Stalford Seed Farm’s 2008 bean trials.

Take a look at the comments section for some great recipe ideas.  I’m really intrigued by the smashed chickpea salad, the Spanish stew (olla gitana), involving garbanzos, pork, pears (!), pimenton, picada and chard, and all the dishes made by grandmothers, mothers, and other loved ones.  Thanks for sharing those ideas, and good luck!

caught on camera by the wild mushroom paparazzi!


A group of us gathered for an edible mushroom seminar yesterday at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum.  The program, led by mushroom enthusiast Josiah Legler, featured a short lecture on mushroom identification, a forest hike on which we found several edible and non-edible species, and a return to the arboretum’s visitor center, where, armed with thick mushrooming books, we learned how to use the dichotomous keys to identify some of our findings.

I’m planning to write more about mushrooms soon, but wanted to share my favorite photo from the series I took on the hike.  The wild mushroom paparazzi swarm Josiah and a perfectly beautiful, dimpled, fleshy pink hedgehog mushroom, caught unaware in the brush.

If you’re interested in Mt. Pisgah’s mushroom walks or any other program, check ’em out here.  They fill up quickly, so don’t wait to register.

brussels sprouts hash with suffering


I’ve never understood the moaning and groaning about brussels sprouts; then again, I noticed that there’s always plenty left over after Thanksgiving at my house.  I love brussels sprouts, so it’s ok by me.  I usually make them in a simple braise with chicken stock and butter, then add a handful of chopped, freshly roasted chestnuts.  I’ve always found that braising is better than roasting, since it infuses flavor throughout the sprout and softens it up a bit, whereas roasting makes for a more crunchy (tho’ pleasantly browned) sprout, slicked with oil.  It just isn’t, in my opinion, a vegetable that roasts well.  The only brassica that roasts well is cauliflower, and even that doesn’t have the water content to make a wonderful roast like, say, squash or asparagus.

This year, I’m going to try something new.  Since Retrogrouch is one of the millions of Americans who don’t eat brussels sprouts, I can experiment.  I’m going to stirfry up a brussels sprouts hash with dukkha, an Egyptian nut and spice mix that features Willamette Valley hazelnuts.  Even though it sounds strange, I think the flavors will match very well with the turkey and stuffing.

Dukkha is used as a dip for breakfast, snacks, and myriad other occasions in Egypt.  It is made of coarsely chopped hazelnuts, and a mix of ground toasted sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, black pepper and salt.  It’s really lovely just with bread dipped in olive oil, but you can also use it as a crust for fish, chicken or tofu, or mix it in coleslaw or roasted vegetables.  Or mix it in some absolutely incredible (I hope) brussels sprouts, thinly sliced, and fried with a bit of argan oil, chicken stock and…bacon.  Y’all can eat the turkey.

Needless to say, it’s a fantastic use of the hazelnuts that are in season right now and at our local farms.

Dukkha is also Buddhist concept.  It describes the suffering in life that happens when you live and lust in the world.  Surely, the name is a coincidence and has nothing to do with the Middle Eastern spice that will be topping my brussels sprouts hash.  Still, I like the idea of my guests suffering through yet another Thanksgiving with me and my brussels sprouts.  Or partaking of suffering gladly, consuming dukkha like there’s no tomorrow.  Chacun à son goût.

All right, enough already.  Speaking of suffering, I’ve got to make a run to the store on this, the day before Thanksgiving, because — ugh — I think I lost my big roaster.

Everyone else can sit back, relax, maybe check out my new column in the Eugene Weekly?  I haven’t seen it yet.  And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Willamette Valley Hazelnut Dukkha Spice Mix

1/2 cup roasted Willamette Valley hazelnuts

1/2 cup white sesame seeds (taste first — they go rancid quickly)

1 t. whole black peppercorns

1 t. whole coriander

1 t. whole cumin seeds, or 1/2 t. powder

1/2 coarse sea salt

In a stainless steel pan, so you can monitor the color, toast the whole spices over medium heat until lightly colored and smelling fragrant.  Remove and set aside for grinding. Then toast the sesame seeds, watching them very carefully so they don’t burn (and they burn quickly) until golden brown.  Grind the spices in a mortar or spice grinder into coarse pieces.  Combine the salt, ground spices, sesame seeds and hazelnuts in a food processor, and chop coarsely.  Don’t overprocess, or you will get a paste.  You want the mix to be sandy with bigger chunks of hazelnuts.

a hard nut to crack


I’m shelling hazelnuts for next week’s Eugene Weekly column, and I’m as grumpy as can be.  Everything’s irritating me, from the grey sky to the too-umami taste of my soup to my lack of bagel to my cat short-sheeting me to my headache to not enough milk in my coffee to the endless grading I’ve been doing to the irresponsibly thin “article” on local food for Thanksgiving in this week’s Register Guard to my overfull and unreliable freezer to my crappy camera that can’t take pictures of hazelnuts worth a damn.  Why is it that other food bloggers smile dreamily into their lima beans and wax poetic about used napkins without a care in the world?  Hang it all.

So I thought I’d write about the ugly side of Thanksgiving — the week before.

The not-so-fun part: cleaning.  With the busy term, I’ve turned the cleaning largely over to my long-suffering husband, Retrogrouch.  He’s a crack ace at laundry and dishes, but he has a habit of leaving a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs wherever he goes.  I’ll find a sock on the floor, a shirt on a doorknob, a canning jar and a plastic lid on the counter, fifty-seven cents on top of the TV, two rolls of tape on the washer, a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room, a receipt ambiguously autographed with a telephone number on the cutting board, one section of yesterday’s newspaper carefully folded and placed between two bowls on my display shelf.  (He’s going to be mad when he sees this, but my journalistic integrity obliges me to tell the truth, with only a hint of slant.)  So now, my house is bedecked with tidbits and loose ends and doodads, not to mention fear in a handful of dust.

A related task is cleaning out space in the refrigerator and freezer.  Here, I am the doodad whisperer.  A tiny bit of mustard vinaigrette in a Maille jar.  Seven containers full of still-pickling fermented green tomato pickles.  A butt end of gruyere.  A lone farm egg.  Some flat leaves of green sauerkraut awaiting stuffed cabbage experiments.  An Anderson Valley Brewing Company Christmas beer from last year.

The freezer, always stuffed, never working properly, is worse.  A single roll.  A hot dog bun.  An abandoned bag of Quorn.  Three abandoned boxes of fake bacon (and rightly so).  Four slightly freezer-burned t-bones.  A pork roast of dubious origin.  A single tiny tuna fillet.  Three containers of bacon grease.  Two more containers of sauerkraut.  Local black beans and lo! some frozen corn from last year.  Another bag of dried tomatoes.  Two bakery scones, which became my breakfast.  It’s going to be a marvelous dinner, that is, if I ever stop writing this blog post…

The fun part:  buying local foods.  I’ve been storing up winter squash from my CSA to make Squash Whip Queen of Hungary, a lovely purée inspired by medieval Queen of Hungary water (brandy, rosemary oil and sage).  Squashes are beautiful and plentiful this year, so local foodies should turn squashward.

I hope you’ve already ordered your turkey.  Wait…did I?  Oh yes, I did.  Whew.

And don’t forget those potatoes.  In a state that put the Ore in Ore-Ida, we have so many beautiful local tubers, and a variety for those allowed to experiment.  Potatoes were one of our very first white-man crops in Oregon, with records of planting dating back to 1795 near Cape Disappointment (surely named by someone on the Atkins diet) and culminating in the crowning of the “Potato King” in the Willamette Valley in the 1880s.  Can’t make this shit up.

Am I allowed to say ‘shit’ in a food blog?  Sorry.

Green beans.  Did you can or freeze yours?  It was a pretty good season for beans, as good as the corn season was poor.  I dehydrated all my green beans, in an experiment in trying to make a camping version of the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean classic green bean and tomato stew loubiyeh (sp?).  I won’t torture my guests with the results.  If you do have local frozen beans, you can cook them for about 60 seconds in a pressure cooker, and they won’t have that weird bouncy squeak to them when you eat them. A wonderfully simple way to serve them, of course, is with some sauteed local chanterelles or other specialty mushrooms, topped with fried local onions.  It’s almost like that casserole.  Almost.

Corn.  If you were able to freeze some, heat up a knob of salted butter in a frypan, brown a shallot or finely chopped slice of red onion, then add the frozen corn with no extra liquid and a bunch of freshly ground pepper.  The corn will shrivel a bit and brown in parts.  When it is heated through, pour in a glug of Noris Dairy whipping cream, stir well, and remove from the heat.

And pies.  Frozen fruit works well in pies.  I’m thinking of either using up my local boysenberries or my sour cherries.  And those hazelnuts sure would make a beautiful crust.  Then again, I have apples up the wazoo, including some local Cortlands, Empires, Rome Beauties, Melroses and a beautiful King.  Ah, choices.

It’s enough to make a girl stop complaining about being grumpy and go off to do her work!