Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lima Beans: Misunderstood and Underappreciated

Lima beans are one of those coveted prizes when visiting the local farm stand. It seems like you either have to be in good with the farm stand owner so you get the low down on when they’re arriving, or you have to get there at JUST the right time. And then poof, they’re gone. I think pole beans are even harder to get than the bush variety. And boy, I love them pole beans. I sometimes wonder why fresh limas are so hard to get. Maybe it’s because there’s not many in a pod and it takes a lot of plants to get a “mess of beans,” as my southern mom would say.

It’s interesting with how much I like lima beans, I have yet to try growing them in my own garden. I’ve never had luck with peas and this is the first year I tried planting green beans. They did pretty well, so maybe next year I will try some pole limas.

I really think lima beans are given a bad rap. I honestly think that most people have never had a fresh lima bean in their life and that’s why they say they hate lima beans. I’ll eat frozen limas in a pinch, and eh, they’re ok, but if you really want to know what a lima bean is SUPPOSED to taste like you have to get some fresh from the farm or garden.

If you need more enticement to eat more limas, then you should know that they are really good for you. They are a good source of fiber, folate and magnesium, and are good for your cholesterol, blood sugar, and heart.

Farm-fresh lima beans.

When it comes to preparing my limas, I prefer just doing something simple like boiling, straining, and adding some butter, salt and pepper, and maybe some herbs.

Last night I added some freshly steamed corn on the cob, cutting off the kernels and mixing them in with the limas and herbs. It was a good combination. Where do I get my corn? Ah, that’s another blog post...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Garden-Inspired Dining at Talula’s Garden

Where does a gardener like myself choose to go for her birthday dinner? A restaurant that serves seasonal dishes straight from the farm or garden, of course. Talula’s Garden is one of Stephen Starr’s restaurants in Washington Square, Philadelphia. We have been to many of Stephen Starr’s restaurants for special occasions through the years, but we had never been to Talula’s Garden.

Talula’s is a collaboration between Starr and Aimee Oxley that opened in 2011. The courtyard is inviting and intimate, and would’ve been my seating choice if it had not been after dark and starting to get chilly. (I get cold REALLY easily. Brian teases me saying I wear longjohns from September through April. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s really only about November through March...yeh....) The courtyard is full of plants, even attached to the brick walls. The inside is what I wish my house looked like — botanical prints on the walls, wood floors, butcher block style tables, decorative birdhouses above the bar, a coat rack made of faucets and spigots, and plants along the back wall behind a gorgeous granite-topped cheese bar with the cheeses displayed in glass garden cloches. There is an Alice Waters quote printed boldly in the room we dined in that says, “The garden brings life and beauty to the table.” Ain’t it the truth???

I am a self-proclaimed cheese-freak. Some girls love chocolate, I love cheese. You can put just about any kind of cheese in front of me and I’ll eat it and love it. We told the waiter what kind of cheeses we like and he made a selection for us based on that. Brian likes the funky blue cheeses and the hard, strong-flavored ones with the little crystals in them. He went for the Saint Agur, which was a luscious, creamy, double cream blue from France, and the Vintage Gouda from Holland. I love milder cheeses and had the Coach Farm Dairy Fresh Fig Cheese, which is a goat cheese from New York that is made by the same people who make Coach handbags, and the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Cremont, a goat cheese from Vermont. I am a huge fan of the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s products and had not had the Cremont before. It was a little more aged than your usual goat cheese and had more of an earthy flavor. We loved all four of the cheeses, which were served with bread for Brian, gluten-free crackers for me, and a few fresh blackberries and raspberries, tiny fresh figs, walnuts with honey drizzle, and dried apricots.

Each guest receives a small, freshly baked brioche, and I was shocked and pleased to receive a freshly baked gluten-free bread. It is very difficult to get a good texture with gluten-free bread — I miss good, crusty bread with a crunch on the outside and soft goodness on this inside. This tiny, mini-bread satisfied that craving. It was really, really good.

Brian and I split an appetizer which was raw tuna with cucumbers and salted watermelon. There was a creamy, tangy sauce, but I can’t remember what was in it. Something fish-infused, but it didn’t taste fishy. The dish was very refreshing and bright tasting.

For our mains, Brian had the roasted hanger steak with heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and little onions in a sauce. I had the seared scallops with black mission figs, corn, pole beans, toasted almond-fig glaze, and buttery pomme purée (basically very finely whipped potatoes). I loved the different textures and flavors of my entree. We felt both our dishes had a rustic flavor to them, a kind of comfort-food quality. Unfortunately, we were too full for dessert.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac about 9 or so years ago, it was a lot more difficult to eat out. Now, so many restaurants are aware of the gluten-free diet and are willing to cater to my needs. The waiter was so helpful and pleasant and it was such a treat to get gluten-free crackers and bread, which really goes beyond what most restaurants do.

The prices of this place make it a special occasion restaurant for us and not one we can afford to go to very often. That makes me kind of sad since I would love to come at different seasons to see what tempting dishes are on the menu. If you’re looking for a garden-themed restaurant with garden-fresh ingredients, then check it out:

Here’s some photos courtesy of the Talula’s website.

The entrance...

The courtyard...

A wall/fountain in the courtyard...

The room that Brian and I dined in...

The cheese bar...

The bar...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tomatoes anyone?

I went out to the Kitchen Garden to pick a tomato to go with my dinner tonight and this is what I came back with (minus the cat, the cat came later)...

Izzy inspecting the tomato bounty.

My Early Girl tomato is proving to be a late girl. We can’t all be early all the time, can we? I think we’ll be eating a lot of tomatoes this week. Maybe Izzy will help.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beauty or Beast: My Relationship With Wisteria

I spent all day on Sunday pruning the wisteria on our property. Yes, all day. I really wish I had taken some before and after pictures because it’s pretty dramatic the difference. I prune it here and there throughout the year, but every year in September I have to do a hard pruning to keep it from taking over the front porch, shed, greenhouse, back end of the house, and trees. This involves using pruners, a handsaw, a ladder, a hat, and long pants and long sleeves. Wisteria (the Japanese variety) is incredibly invasive. I think I likened it to The Terminator in one of my blog posts. It just never stops. My whole body aches from hauling the heavy metal ladder all over the property and from climbing all over the roof, and even on top of the greenhouse — all to prune the wisteria. I did some reflecting on my relationship with wisteria while spending so much time with it on Sunday...

I first noticed wisteria when I was traveling in England. It was growing up the side of a beautiful, little, stone house in your typicial picturesque village in the Cotswolds. The cascading purple flowers with their intoxicating scent won me over. It brought to mind romantic vingettes of women in hoop skirts holding parisols yearning for a kiss from a lover under an arbor of wisteria, like a scene out of a Merchant Ivory film. After all, it was the promise of “Wisteria and Sunshine” that lured some London ladies to romantic Italy on holiday in “Enchanted April”. I thought to myself, “One day I will have a garden with wisteria”. What a young, niave gardener I was.

When we were looking for a house to buy, wisteria was the last thing on my mind. We weren’t even very seriously looking and then we saw “THE” house. So much of this house was just “right,” so perfect for us. I was practically giddy when I saw there was wisteria on the property. It just was meant to be.

Our first confrontation with the wisteria was right after we bought the house in the fall. We wanted to remove the dead leaves from the roof of the greenhouse so that the plants inside would survive the winter. This meant trying to pry up the wisteria and hose the leaves out from underneath. Brian took position on the roof with the hose and I planted myself on a ladder with a broomstick trying to lift the wisteria. With the water running, Brian slipped on our metal roof and came within inches of landing flat on his back on the greenhouse roof. We had waited too late in the year and the water had started to freeze on the roof, making it too slippery to tackle the leaves under the wisteria. That was the first and last time we tried to hose out the dead leaves. Now I just prune it as much as I can in the fall and use a broom to try to push the dead leaves out from under it.

One frigid January night we awoke to this constant popping sound. We had no idea what this could be. I put on my boots and treked out into the yard to investigate. It was the seed pods of the wisteria that were popping from the freezing temperatures. The dark seeds were popping out like little bullets raining down on the ground. In the snow and moonlight it almost seemed like it belonged in the “Twilight Zone”.

Come our first spring in this house, Brian learned why I loved wisteria. The beautiful, cascading blooms and the luring scent are irrisistable. I was determined to learn more about this vigourous plant. After some researching on pruning and learning that wisteria gorws an average of 10 feet per year, I knew I was in for a never-ending battle. Once or twice a year I was going to have to prune my wisteria – on ladder or roof with pruners and hand-saw, just me and this vine that wouldn’t give up. A neighbor had told me the whole property used to be covered in wisteria. It made me wonder how long this wisteria had been here. The greenhouse was a later addition, so surely the wisteria there had not been there more than 40 or 60 years, I figured. But the wisteria growing up all of the trees, the wisteria vines that were 6 inches in diameter that I found growing up behind the workshop, what about that? These vines tower in the treetops. Had that been there since the house was built in the 1800s? Even the wisteria I was tackling on the greenhouse was surely much older than I. Perhaps this vine deserved more respect.

A tangled mass of wisteria in the springtime.

I have learned that by pruning at the right times of the year, the wisteria will be even more beautiful the following spring. I used to be tentative about pruning too much or worried I wasn’t doing it correctly, but I’ve since learned that no matter how much you prune it and how you do it, it will always come back. Always. It’s all just a matter of timing and not pruning too late or else you won’t get the pretty blossoms in the spring. Through the years, I’ve developed a relationship with it. After all, it deserves to be there, it came first. I am merely the current visitor that tends to it to keep it beautiful and manageable.

All year the wisteria is the playground for many creatures. Birds, bugs, and squirrels... even an occasional neighborhood cat who manages to climb up the vines. I see the birds make nests in the wisteria, have families, and then their babies stick around to play in it. One winter, our old cat (Montague, may he rest in peace) discovered a very large possum on our greenhouse roof. It was the first time I had seen a possum up close. They look an awful lot like an enourmous rat with sharp claws and teeth. Not cute and cuddly at all. How did it get up there? By climbing the wisteria vine, of course.

The wisteria is a constant battle. The beautiful beast that won’t give up. I have wisteria vines popping up everywhere in my yard. In garden beds, in the middle of the lawn, growing through hydrangeas, winding up trees and over fences, always threatening to take over the back yard. It even spreads its branches under the porch, reaching the front yard and growing up the posts of our front porch. I am pulling wisteria constantly from the beds and the lawn, pulling it out of the siding of the house, and cutting it off of the telephone wires. It is determined to survive anywhere it can. You have to respect that kind of determination. I could only hope that I would have such a will to survive if ever I am diagnosed with a serious illness. In fact, it’s certain that one day I will be too old to prune my wisteria. My joints will ache, I won’t have the strength to climb the ladder or the steadiness to tackle it from the roof. The power of nature and it’s will to survive will be greater than I. The wisteria will grow and I will fade away. It will be here long after I am gone. And then there will be another home-owner to face it head-on and they will have their own stories to tell. Will they love the wisteria or hate it? They’ll love it. But they’ll also hate it. Just like me.

The Kitchen Garden in August...yes August...

September is almost over and I’m just posting pictures of the Kitchen Garden in August...sigh...sad, but true. How did that happen?????

Basil, swiss chard, tomatoes, and yellow squash were all big parts of my diet in August. 

The Kitchen Garden in August.

August rains helped keep the Kitchen Garden alive, despite the heat.

Kitchen Garden looking towards the flower garden.

I planted garlic chives last year and they really flourished this year. The chopped leaves make a nice addition to a pasta dish and the pretty, white flower heads make a nice addition to the garden. For some reason allium has never done well in my yard, yet these garlic chives, which must be a close relative, seem perfectly happy.

Basil, cosmos, and garlic chives.

I cannot, not ever, live without sweet basil in the garden. Never. It is simply a requirement every year. It is my favorite fresh herb. I sorely miss it in the winter time. I have tried growing it inside in a pot during the winter, but it never does very well. Dried basil doesn’t even come close to the heavenly scent and taste of fresh basil.

Sweet basil.

I must admit that I try not to each TOO much of the swiss chard because it’s just too pretty to eat. I love the brightly colored stems.

Swiss chard, purple hyacinth bean vine and bok choy.

I find it difficult NOT to plant hyacinth bean each year. The beautifully shaped, brightly colored flowers are wonderful...the purple stems and seed pods make it even more amazing.

Purple hyacinth bean vine.

The Early Girl tomatoes exploded right after we got back from our annual trip to the Poconos near the end of August. It has been non-stop ever since. Lots of Caprese salads, tomatoes with pasta, grilled tomatoes, and tomato grilled cheese sandwiches going on. I must admit, though, that these are not the sweetest tomatoes. They are perfectly fine, just not as sweet as I like.

Early Girl tomatoes.

The grape-sized Sungold tomatoes have not been the most prolific smaller tomato that I’ve grown, but they certainly are the sweetest.

Orange zinnias and Sungold tomatoes.

I have become a devout fan of Heliopsis Summer Nights. You seriously couldn’t ask more from it. This is planted on the border of my Kitchen Garden next to the neighbor’s white fence. It has bloomed non-stop all summer long. Seriously...non-stop and abundantly. These outbloom black eyed susan and is even prettier because of the almost-black stems and the cheerful orange centers. I love this plant so much I would hug it if I thought I wouldn’t completely crush it.

Heliopsis Summer Nights.

The first time I saw a picture of a Beautyberry bush I knew I had to have one one day. I planted this last year and it has doubled, if not tripled in size. It, too, is planted on the border of the Kitchen Garden next to the neighbor’s white fence. It gets tiny white flowers in the spring which make you think, eh, this plant is ok. But then come late summer the show starts with bright purple berries bursting forth all along the gracefully arching stems. When I showed this to Brian he said, “Wow!” It’s just that cool.

Beautyberry busy.

The neighbor’s white fence certainly is better than looking at all the cars in their driveway. Now if they would just finish it...the right side has never been completed. When I planned the Kitchen Garden (yes, planned, something I don’t often do when gardening), I knew I wanted a focal point that could be seen from the house and from the screened-in back porch. Right now the bench and the circular bed act as such. Originally I wanted a fountain in the center of the circular bed, but after going to a Kitchen Garden lecture at Longwood Gardens earlier this year I decided on a standard rose. Apparently a Kitchen Garden just isn’t a Kitchen Garden without at least one. I got a great deal on this in the early spring and it has bloomed fairly consistently all spring and summer. I also knew I wanted some boxwood because to me a Kitchen Garden isn’t complete without it. I have four dwarf boxwoods in the circular bed, along with an annual that I mentioned in my last post, Melampodium (the yellow flowers). I also have two boxwoods planted to the right and two to the left as you enter the garden, plus two in pots. The two that are in pots I really wanted to be pyramid shaped boxwoods, but alas, they were to darn expensive. Instead I bought another boxwood that gets a little bigger than the dwarf and I will try to train it into a pyramid shape as it grows.

Entrance to the Kitchen Garden.

Here’s a close-up of that circular bed.

Melampodium (an annual), along with dwarf boxwood and a rose standard.

The small area to the left of the Kitchen Garden has been one of the “problem areas” for quite awhile. No matter how often I dig up weeds in this area, they always come back with a vengeance and get as tall as me, which is pretty tall. I finally got sick of clearing this area out. I put down landscaping fabric and mulch and hope that keeps the stubborn weeds at bay. I hope to plant some things in the area to the left of the woodpile next spring. At some point there might be a small garden shed in this area.

Woodpile area next to the Kitchen Garden.

Looking from the very back of the yard towards the house.

This is my second year of being able to enjoy the Kitchen Garden, which I worked so hard on. I can’t imagine not having it now. So much of my vegetables and herbs come from the garden that the only produce that I’ve had to buy this year is corn, broccoli, and scallions. I had planted scallions, but for some reason they didn’t do well this year. There’s something so natural about “living off the land.” And nothing tastes better than herbs and veggies picked straight from the garden.

The Kitchen Garden.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Flower Garden in August (better late than never)

Yeh, yeh, I know, it’s September, not August. I can’t seem to keep up with how fast time flies. Here were the flower garden highlights in August.

August was still really, really hot, however, we did get several thunderstorms that at least watered the garden enough to keep things alive. 

The flower garden in August.

The Melampodium are finally looking full. It took them awhile, probably due to the heat. Melampodium is a yellow annual that I plant every year because it usually does well. I have discovered through the years, though, that it needs water more than you think it would or else it doesn’t get bushy and full. I have some in the flower garden and some in the center circular bed in the kitchen garden.

Melampodium, an annual.

Another annual that is doing well is the Black and Blue Salvia. It has gotten pretty full and has been blooming all summer. I love the color of the flowers and the stems are almost black near the top, hence the name.

Black and Blue Salvia, another annual.

Texas Sage is an annual I first planted last year. It’s doing exactly what it did last year, too — it gets off to a slow start and come late summer it gets bigger and fuller. Red is a color I don’t use a lot, other than with Pineapple Sage. I find I really like it.

Continuing on the theme of annuals: Texas Sage.

Boy, that Phlox David is still going strong. It really has put on a show this year, despite the heat. And still no signs of powdery mildew. The white flowers practically glow at night.  The blue ground cover is a variety of Plumbago and always looks it’s best this time of the year. It’s a very reliable ground cover.

Phlox David and Plumbago.

I never planted Morning Glory, yet it’s there every year on the arbor. It takes over in the late summer. Which really isn’t so bad because the climbing rose and climbing hydrangea really aren’t much to look at in the late summer.  The hummingbird loves it, so I love it.

Morning Glory and Climbing Hydrangea, with Phlox David in background.

I made a kind of “rock garden” in the front of the flower garden this year. The Sedum in the Medieval looking pot is probably 6 years old now. Whenever I think of repotting it, it starts to bloom and I think maybe it’s still happy in there. The bright green plant in the foreground is another kind of Sedum. The dainty yellow flowers in the background are Moonbeam Coreopsis. The flower in the foreground is an annual and I know the name, it’s just escaping me right now. After all, I will be another year older soon — the mind is the first thing to go!

Two kinds of Sedum, Moonbeam Coreopsis, and an annual.

Speaking of Sedum, here’s another one. This one really needs dividing because it has gotten very long and floppy the past two years. I bought this one because it had dark purple leaves. Not so much anymore. Not sure what happened there. I want to say it was either Dark Knight or Purple Emperor.


This Sedum is right next to the Black Eyed Susan, which looked great until recently. It looks like it has some sort of insect or disease issue right now.

Sedum and Black Eyed Susan.

I planted this Russian Sage next to the Sedum just this year. This is Little Spire, which is a dwarf variety.

Russian Sage.

This is a view of the flower garden taken from the back of the garden. Purple Butterfly Bush, hydrangea, peony, Sedum, Black Eyed Susan, and Phlox David are all in this picture. Plus a bit of tomato plant peaking in on the left side.

The flower garden in August.

I have two Butterfly Bushes, one is white and the other is a magenta/purplish color. And they are exactly what they say they are — butterfly magnets.

Purple Butterfly Bush.

As mentioned before, I had a bunch of ivy and poison ivy cleared out from the back of the flower garden. I have planted a few things in this shady area: a rhododendron, some Autumn Fern, and some hostas that used to be in the overgrown area on the other side of the back yard. I started to lay out a path, but haven’t finished that yet.

Behind the flower garden.

I kind of have a love/hate thing with Coleus. Sometimes I think it’s common and overused and other times I find all the various colors fascinating.

Coleus on the back steps.

A late season find at the nursery. Not labeled, so I don’t know exactly what it is. It must be related to Hens and Chicks, though. It’s much more dangerous looking though. I love the contrast of the grayish leaves and the dark purple thorns.

Cool, but dangerous.

I promise to post the kitchen garden pictures from August soon. Hopefully before September ends... :o)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Recipe from the Garden: Pasta with Vegetables and Herbs

This isn’t really a recipe to follow, it’s more about taking what you have in the garden and cooking it up with some pasta. Easy peasy and a great way to use the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden.

This is probably a good time for me to mention that I have to eat gluten-free. After years of feeling ill and suffering from abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, and more, I finally was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Actually, I’m the one who figured it out, not my doctor. I read an article about it, asked to be tested, and a biopsy revealed the truth — it changed my life. Eating gluten-free has been a challenge at times — more-so in the early years of diagnosis — but it has been my life since 2004 so it’s just ingrained in who I am anymore. So when I say I make pasta with vegetables and herbs from the garden, I mean gluten-free pasta. So instead of wheat pasta, we’re talking rice, corn, or quinoa pasta.

Vegetables that you will often find in my garden and in my gluten-free pasta are peas, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, and/or spinach. Herbs often include fresh basil, oregano, and thyme, or sometimes sage instead. I cook the veggies in olive oil with garlic or with herb butter (see July 21st  post for herb butter recipe). Then I mix in the herbs and pasta, and sometimes add shredded or grated parmesan cheese. If I’m feeling like I need a little protein, I’ll cook up some salmon or chicken to go in it. (I should probably mention that I don’t eat red meat.) Sometimes I’ll eat it just like that and other times I’ll make or buy an Alfredo or cheese sauce of some kind.

Gluten-free pasta with salmon and some vegetables and herbs from the garden.

This is one of my quick, go-to meals. If I am too tired to follow a recipe or think of something to make, I just walk out to the Kitchen Garden, pick some vegetables and snip some herbs, and my brain thanks me for it.

Hudson Valley Seed Library

My family vacations in the Poconos every year and we rent a cabin on Lake Wallenpaupak. The closest town is Hawley, PA. In the old Silk Mill in Hawley,  we came across a new store this year called the Mill Market that specializes in local products. While browsing, I discovered these gorgeous seed packets and the graphic designer in me couldn’t resist buying a couple — after all, I’m a sucker for awesome packaging. These seed packets are part of the Art Pack Collection of Hudson Valley Seed Library. Eye-candy for the artsy gardener.

Seed packets from the Art Pack Collection of the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

The Hudson Valley Seed Library is the brainchild of Ken Greene and Doug Muller, who farm in Accord, NY and are helped by about fifteen other farms in the Hudson Valley. According to the home page of their website, they have over 200 heirloom flower, vegetable and herb varieties. Each Art Pack is designed by a different artist, making for a diverse and beautiful collection of artwork. To see the full collection, click here. Who can resist?

Here’s some more information about the Hudson Valley Seed Company, taken from their About Us page on their website:

“The Seed Library grew out of a germ of an idea at a small town library in the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York. Over the past eight years, the idea has grown and blossomed into an online seed library focused on the Northeast and a full seed catalog for all gardeners. Today, the Seed Library has its own seed farm where open-pollinated seeds are grown, saved, and packed by hand. There are close to one thousand seed library members and thousands more buy our unique Art Packs and heirloom seeds every year.

The Hudson Valley Seed Library strives to do three things:
1.    to create an accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring farmers and gardeners
2.    to create gift-quality seed packs featuring original works designed artists in order to celebrate the beauty and diversity of heirloom gardening.
3.    to help farmers, gardeners, and eaters understand where seeds come from, how they are grown, who grows them, and why seed saving is more important than ever.

In 2012, we expect to offer over 60 varieties of locally grown seed and around 140 varieties sourced from responsible seed houses. Most of our varieties are rooted in the history and soils of New York or are chosen because they do well in the Northeast. Every year we plan on growing additional varieties on the Seed Library farm and contracting with organic and certified naturally grown farmers in the greater Hudson Valley to grow even more varieties. Our membership program provides a way for backyard gardeners to make a vital contribution to this effort.”

I love what these guys are doing. As their slogan says, they are “Keeping seeds in the dirty hands of caring gardeners.” Well then, they’re in good hands. And they also happen to show that art and gardening go perfect together.