Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard From Seed & Why You Should

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard in the homemade greenhouse last November.

Looking for Swiss chard recipes? Here are some of my favorites:
What To Do With Swiss Chard—Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip Recipe & Other Ways To Cook & Enjoy My Favorite Leafy Green
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Scallions & Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Cottage Cheese
Swiss Chard and Artichoke Soup

Swiss Chard and Artichoke 'White' Pizza

The year I turned 30, I had two friends who turned 60, and I took full advantage of the situation. "Save me some trouble," I said, "and tell me the most valuable thing you've learned in the last 30 years."

The first one offered up a piece of advice I've tried to abide by ever since. He said, "Be happy, not resentful or envious, when good things happen to other people." But it was seven words of wisdom from the second friend that truly changed my life: "Always plant Swiss chard in the garden."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What's Growin' On 9/22/07: Packing Back Up The Polarfleece & Putting Purple Basil To Good Use

No Worries Yet For This Cold Intolerant Purple Basil

Realization Of The Day:
Mother Nature is a tease.

Or maybe she's simply bored and figured she'd have some laughs by torturing us here in Missouri. All I know is that our recent little cold snap was a very false alarm.

Last Saturday morning it was 40 degrees. As someone who would be perfectly thrilled if the temperature never again went above 70, I celebrated by diving into a tub labled 'polarfleece,' emerging triumphantly with a cozy pullover and the lime green pajama pants decorated with sheep and stars that my mother once gave me for Christmas. (The Shack is not equipped with closets, so we live out of stacks and stacks of large plastic containers.) I flung a giant polarfleece blanket on the bed, slipped on thick fuzzy socklets, and dusted off the teakettle. While my first cup of hot tea in months sat steeping, I wondered if I had enough clear plastic sheeting to cover the several raised beds I'd just seeded with fall crops so the soil would stay warm enough for the seeds to germinate.

Then it heated back up. By mid-afternoon Sunday I'd convinced myself there was no ignoring summer's return, and that sweating to death in a cotton turtleneck out of protest wouldn't do any good. I reluctantly changed into a tank top, made some iced tea, and stuffed all the polarfleece back into their bins. Today's forecast predicted a high of 89 degrees.

The good news is that most of the seeds I planted have already sprouted. I even bothered to write down what I planted where. (I'll post a complete list in the next few days.) And, as Joe correctly pointed out, just a couple of sweltering weeks ago I would have been thrilled to hear that it was only supposed to be in the upper 80s.

As for this striking purple basil plant, it's no longer draped with a floating row cover to protect it from the cold and will probably be safe outside for at least another week or two. The green basil surrounding it was turned into my favorite pesto a few weeks ago, though I did follow my own advice and left the stripped plants in the ground. The purple basil is ready to be picked now, but, as pathetic as this sounds, I'm not sure what to do with it. I love fresh basil in all kinds of dishes, and I love the color of these leaves, especially how they're outlined in green, but the thought of blackish purple basil pesto--or blackish purple basil anything for that matter--just doesn't seem appealing.

A friend suggested I make basil vinegar with it. You fill a large jar with half white vinegar, half cider vinegar, then stuff it with purple basil and let it steep for a week. Strain it and pour the resulting gorgeous magenta vinegar into a pretty bottle with a few sprigs of fresh basil. That sounds nice, but I'm not sure what I'd do with it. I'm really not very creative when it comes to using herbs in the kitchen. I also never use white vinegar, preferring white balsamic instead, which I suppose would work, too. It would certainly be nice to look at sitting on a kitchen shelf, but she says you need to store the vinegar in a dark place in order for it to retain its color.

So help me out here. If you had a beautiul purple basil plant in your garden, or a bottle of magenta basil vinegar in your pantry, what would you do with them?

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another Less Fuss, More Flavor Recipe: The Easiest Greek Salad Ever

This beautiful summer salad is so full of flavor it doesn't even need dressing.

The way I cooked, ate, bought, and even thought about food all changed dramatically when I left urban Northern California for rural Missouri 13 years ago. Most of this was a direct result of space and availability. Moving from a 900 square-foot cottage with a postage-stamp sized yard to a couple of hundred acres meant there was space for a large kitchen garden, space for chest freezers, space for animals to graze.

Availability was a different story. Relocating from one of the undisputed gastronomic capitals of the world to the middle of nowhere in middle America meant that a lot of food purchasing options disappeared. Order Chinese take-out or have a pizza delivered? Neither. Dash to the store for proscuitto, kohlrabi, sherry wine vinegar? Forget it. Buying parsley or cilantro means 80 miles of driving. One learns to adapt.

My food philosophy these days can pretty much be summed up by the phrase Less Fuss, More Flavor. And what that simply means is this: the better your ingredients, the less you have to mess with them.

Of course some might argue that growing two dozen types of salad greens or putting up 100 pounds of tomatoes or raising your own lamb and beef constitutes a fair amount of fuss. But the nice thing is that if you start with the best, then at the end of the day when you're tired and sore and starving to death, a meal fit for even the most gourmet gourmand can be ready in a snap.

A typical late summer dinner for us might include grilled lamb chops or lamb leg steaks (I love these!), the last of the French filet beans in the garden, and some freshly dug Yukon Gold potatoes (because the best way to store your potatoes is to leave them in the ground). Now sure, you could marinate the lamb for hours with garlic and fresh herbs and all sorts of other delightful stuff, make the delicious sounding but 4-step Warm Green Bean, Pancetta & Tomato Salad with Parmesan in the issue of Fine Cooking I had sitting on the kitchen counter for months (but never actually made), and turn the potatoes into some gorgeous, creamy gratin. But the point is, you don't have to.

More often than not, the lamb gets tossed straight onto the grill, and the beans and potatoes are cooked up (steamed just until tender and boiled, respectively) and served with nothing more than a little organic butter and some nice salt and pepper. Less Fuss, More Flavor allows you to be lazy in the kitchen—without anyone ever realizing it.

A crusty loaf of homemade crusty bread (I always bake three or four loaves at a time and freeze them) and an heirloom tomato salad round things out. Except for a platter of plain sliced tomatoes, which often appears at our table, you can't get much simpler than this bare bones Greek style salad.

So what's your favorite Less Fuss, More Flavor recipe?

Farmgirl Susan's Simplest Greek Salad
Serves at least one

This pared-down version contains just five ingredients, so using the finest of each is of utmost importance. Juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes are the key, which means this is a Summer Only recipe. Stuff yourself silly on it now, and let the memories keep you satiated through the rest of the year.

Most Greek salads call for various other ingredients, some traditional and some not. Everybody seems to have their own favorite version. I used to add olive oil and vinegar but don't bother anymore. I've listed several optional additions below, though none are necessary. I didn't even put salt & pepper in the batch pictured here, though I did add a large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley.

If you're a nibbler like me, bear in mind that the more complicated the recipe gets, the longer you'll have to fill yourself up while putting it together. Many Greek salad recipes call for cutting the vegetables into large pieces, but I like them on the small side because I'm one of those people who wants a taste of every thing in every bite.

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) aren't traditional, but I'm addicted to them and will toss them into practically anything when I'm not snacking on them straight from the can (I do rinse them first). Flavorwise, they fit right in here, and they give the salad a fiber and protein boost as well, which can be important if this ends up being your entire meal, like it was for me tonight.

Organic garbanzo beans are a bargain and should be a staple in everyone's pantry. You can find them in many places for under a dollar a can, including at Whole Foods Market, where they'll give you an extra discount if you stock up and buy a dozen cans at a time.

One large cucumber, cut into dice
Several vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably freshly picked, organically grown heirlooms (a variety of colors is nice), cut into small chunks
A handful of kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
A generous handful of fresh basil, chopped
A hunk of the nicest feta cheese you can find, preferably made from sheep's milk
Splash of brine from the olives or feta

Optional additions:
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil
Your favorite vinegar
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh garlic
Fresh oregano
Flat-leaf parsley
Anchovies, laid on top or a smidge of anchovy paste mixed in
Red onion
Sweet red peppers
Green bell peppers

Place cucumber, tomatoes, olives, basil, and half the feta cheese (crumbled) in a large bowl along with any desired additional ingredients. Gently toss with a large spoon until combined. Sprinkle with remaining feta cheese just before serving. Alternatively, you can whisk together an olive-oil based dressing and then toss it with the rest of the ingredients.

This salad tastes best if you mix it up and then let it sit for an hour or two at room temperature so the flavors can mingle, but it's delicious even in the making, which is of course how I always eat it.

Tomatoes lose their flavor when refrigerated, so don't make enough for leftovers—just mix up another batch.

Still have more tomatoes left? You'll find links to all my Less Fuss, More Flavor tomato recipes at the end of this post.

©, the freshly picked foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and we never get tired of tomatoes, though each summer we try our very best.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's Growin' On 9/11/07:
Welcoming Autumn With Open Arms

Sedum Autumn Joy Flowers Change Color As The Weeks Go By

Realization Of The Day:
And just like that summer ended.

What a change! It's like I went to bed last night and woke up in another season.

Yesterday was 84 degrees, hot and humid and still. Sweat poured down my face and biting insects attacked as I transformed one of the 4-foot by 8-foot raised garden beds from weed choked nightmare into beautiful bare ground so I can
sow seeds for fall greens. (That always feels so good, doesn't it?)

At dusk I had a sudden urge (brought on, no doubt, by the pound of leftover
pizza dough in the fridge) to harvest the bulk of my basil patch, and last night found me whizzing up two batches of my favorite pesto and swooning over freshly baked tomato pesto pizza long past the hour that will soon mark my bedtime.

This morning dawned cool and crisp and breezier than it's been in weeks. The air conditioner in my little office has been finally turned off, and the windows are wide open. Tonight it's supposed to drop down into the 40s. Autumn is blowing in, and I am welcoming her with open arms.

happy hour in the garden. Cheers!

Want to see more?
You'll find all sorts of butterflies and other pollinators here. More flower photos can be found here.

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What's Growin' On 9/10/07:
Planning & Planting The Fall Garden

Golden California Wonder Pepper Ready To Pick

Realization Of The Day:
The best thing about this year's summer gardening season is that it's almost over.

Spring wasn't real great either, but it did give me my best spinach crop ever (I ate spinach salad for weeks from one 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed), as well as that
long and glorious lettuce season. I had so much lettuce I was eating it for breakfast. And of course in spring there's always the prospect of all that glorious summer bounty to come. Which mostly didn't. It's no wonder I haven't written anything here in months. (Welcome to all the new subscribers!)

I did learn a few things, though, including the fact that I really need to focus on growing more fall and winter crops. Now I just need to plant some.

I was shocked the other day when I realized I'd taken
this photo of gorgeous, freshly picked autumn greens last year on October 4th. I've been so busy watering and sweating to death over the past couple of months that I didn't start any seeds for fall. No pak choy, no Swiss chard, no lettuce, no endive or escarole, no spinach, no kale, no turnips, no beets, not even any of my beloved Nero di Toscana cat cabbage

Fortunately it shouldn't be too late to plant an autumn garden here in southern Missouri. The official frost date isn't until October 15th (though ours often arrives earlier since we're tucked down in a little valley), and the weather can be fairly mild into November. All sorts of salad greens, as well as other vegetables such as kohlrabi, cabbage, and brussels sprouts thrive in cooler weather, and many taste better if they've been subjected to a couple of frosts.

Greenhouse Permanent Arugula Bed On November 8th, 2006

Last winter as I harvested arugula leaves from the same big bug-free plants for weeks without them turning bitter or bolting, I realized that this easy to grow green actually
thrives in cold weather.

In areas such as the South and the West Coast, you should be able to plant now and continue eating from your garden straight through winter and right into spring.

We're still seeing temperatures in the mid 80s on
the farm, but yellow leaves have begun speckling some of the trees, and the nights are finally cooling down. We've even had some much needed rain. Best of all, the last chigger bite of the year is thankfully in sight.

My appetite for tending to my garden--and my garden journal--has returned. So if you'll excuse me, I have some serious weeding and seeding to do.

How did your summer grow? Successes? Failures? Lessons learned you can pass on to the rest of us?

Coming Up (and this time I really mean it):
--The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
--How to grow Swiss chard from seed, plus two of my favorite Less Fuss, More Flavor Swiss chard recipes
--What I learned this year about growing garlic
--Review of a new dandy little gardening book

Ideas & Inspiration For Your Autumn Garden:
My Review of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, my favorite gardening book
Building My Inexpensive Greenhouse
Planting My Fall 2006 Garden Part I
Planting My Fall 2006 Garden Part II
Planting My Fall 2006 Garden Part III
How To Grown Your Own Gourmet Lettuce From Seed: It's easier than you think!
How To Go From Seed To Salad Bowl In Less Than A Month: Growing arugula, lettuce, and more, even if you don't have an actual garden
How To Grow Beets From Seed & Why You Should
How To Grow Turnips From Seed And What To Do With Them
How To Grow Endive & Escarole From Seed And What To Do With Them
How To Grow Nero di Toscana Cat Cabbage From Seed And What To Do With It
How To Make It Rain On Your Garden
Pollinators In The Garden

Enjoying The Late Summer Harvest Now:
My Less Fuss, More Flavor Fresh Pizza Sauce
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie
Tomato Pesto Pizza, My Favorite Basil Pesto Recipe, & The Simplest Tomato Salad
Three No-Cook Summer Recipes:Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, Easy Vegetarian Tacos & High Kickin' Creamy Tomato Dressing
Baby Cream Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches On Italian Black Olive Cheeks
My Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution
Colors Of Summer Salad
Summer In A Bowl
Making & Using Arugula Pesto
My Super Simple Spinach Soup Recipe
Caramelized Beets With Garlic
Herbed Yogurt Cheese Recipe & How To Make Homemade Yogurt
Fast Farm Food: Lettuce For Breakfast? Why not!
My Basic Summer Squash Soup Recipe
My Simple Summer Harvest Soup
My Simple Summer Harvest Soup--The Autumn Version
The Easiest Broccoli Soup Ever
Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars
Just Peachy Blueberry Breakfast Bars

And Later:
Don't Cut Your Basil Season Short!
How To Freeze Sweet Peppers
How To Freeze Zucchini & My One Claim To Fame
What To Do With All Those Green Tomatoes? Make My Easy Salsa-Style Green Tomato Relish!
Quality for Keeps: A Comprehensive Guide To Freezing Vegetables from the University of Missouri Extension Center
The Ball Home Canning Basics Kit includes everything you need get started canning.
I can't imagine life without a FoodSaver and use mine to seal everything from green beans to wild venison to chainsaw chains (it keeps them from rusting). I've found it's more economical to make my own custom bags using two different sized rolls of the FoodSaver bag material.

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.