Monday, March 30, 2009


It seems I've always had a thing about dirt.

This is me, age two. I have just been caught eating dirt.

Even at this tender age, I subscribed to Margaret Atwood's philosophy:
"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

So when it came time to fill our veggie bed with soil, I wanted to do it right. After much thought, comparison shopping and an ungodly amount of math
we decided to have our garden soil delivered in bulk, rather than haul dozens of bags of soil from the hardware store. A few days ago, the good folks at Missouri Organic showed up with an alarmingly large dump truck full of luscious garden-ready goodness. 


(No, the kid wasn't the prize that came with the dirt.)

And that evening it started to rain. I hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full to the back yard in a vain effort to get it all put into the bed before dark.
The next day, Friday, it rained some more - and the forecast was for 8" of snow by Saturday morning. I hauled more wheelbarrows to the back all the while wondering if I could get it all done before the snow and before I went all Jane Austen and came down with consumption from being out in the freezing rain. 25 wheelbarrow loads later, did I finish before the snow???


The snow has melted, but the ground will be too soggy to drag a heavy wheelbarrow across for a few more days yet. That's ok. As March shrugs off the last of winter's chill, I'll sip on my final batch of hot Russian Tea for the season and daydream about little green shoots stretching out into the warm sun of spring.

Russian Tea
Makes: A big pot
This recipe has been in our family for quite a long time. You may find recipes called Russian Tea here and there - but if there is any instant tea or Tang involved, call it for the fraud that it is and fling it far from your person. 

1 gallon water
6 black tea bags, decaf is acceptable
2 cinnamon sticks
1 heaping teaspoon cloves, in a tea ball
1 64 oz can pineapple juice
3 cups orange juice (pulp free is best)
1 lemon, cut in half
1 cup of sugar

Put water, tea bags, cinnamon sticks and cloves into a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and let steep for 20 minutes or so.

Add juices. Squeeze lemon juice into mix, then toss lemons in. Add sugar and stir. Reduce heat to low and let the flavors meld. Time on this is subjective. I find that at least an hour is required to really build up a good flavor balance. Take all the floating ingredients out when the flavor makes your eyes roll back and an involuntary "Mmmm" purrs out of your throat.

I like an equal balance of clove and cinnamon - you may like more of one than the other. The cloves have the strongest flavor, and I find that if left in too long, the tea gets a bit bitter. Play with the balance and timing until you are ridiculously satisfied.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

One Step Closer

Over the weekend we started sod busting to make room for the vegetable bed. Harper rescued worms from the sod
and helped her dad sort lumber. 

Ricki said we needed to figure out how much usable cedar we had left over from the tree house and how much we needed to buy to build the raised bed. When he started muttering numbers, I pretended I had sod in my ears and wandered off, wisely leaving the calculations to him.

He's keeping the girls busy tricking out the tree house over spring break - but those sneaky petes were up to something else today. I came home from work and found that the 3 of them had done this:

Do I have a cool family, or what? All we need is a burrow-proof screen for the bottom and a lot of dirt and we'll be ready to get going.

I did a walk-about of the whole yard and found the first signs of my other culinary treasures peeking up into the late afternoon sun.


Lemon Thyme

In honor of St. Patrick's day and our garden-to-be (which will include potatoes), here's a recipe for Skillet Roasted Potatoes with Lemon and Chives. 

(I believe this is from Cook's Illustrated, May 2005)

For even cooking and proper browning, the potatoes must be cooked in a single layer and should not be crowded in the pan, so be sure to use a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet. 
Serves 3 - 4

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 1/2 pounds Red Bliss potatoes, small or medium, scrubbed and unpeeled
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Combine lemon zest and chives in small bowl.
2. If using small potatoes (1 1/2- to 2-inch diameter), halve each potato. If using medium 92- to 3-inch diameter), quarter each potato to create 3/4 to 1-inch chunks. Rinse potatoes in cold water and drain well; spread on clean kitchen towel and thoroughly pat dry.
3. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add potatoes cut side down in single layer; cook, without stirring, until golden brown (oil should sizzle but not smoke), 5 - 7 minutes. Using tongs, turn potatoes skin side down if using halved potatoes, or second cut side down if using medium; cook, without stirring, until deep golden brown, 5 - 6 minutes longer. Stir potatoes, then redistribute in single layer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until potatoes are tender (paring knife can be inserted into potatoes with no resistance), 6 - 9 minutes.
4. When potatoes are tender, sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon chive mixture, and toss or stir gently to combine. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow and Strawberries

On March 1 I read that some cool weather crops, such as potatoes, should be in the ground by mid-to late March. 

Since we were laid up with flu and the garden-to-be looked like this:

 I doubted that this garden wisdom would be heeded.

Instead, in between nose blows and pathetic rounds of "Who Feels Worse?" I thumb through catalogs and drool over strawberries like these Ozark Beauties.

"Wave after wave of lush berries all the way through frost." Ahh...

Although, upon close inspection, the dimples in these berries 
make them look like little red butts.

Here's an easy recipe for some Strawberry Jam. Even with store bought, out of season berries you can get a yummy jam that's fantastic on toast, biscuits, scones or just the end of your fingers.

Strawberry Refrigerator Jam
from "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" pg 780.

Makes about 2 cups

1 quart strawberries, hulled & sliced thin
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Set a small bowl over a larger bowl of ice water and set aside. Simmer strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the mixture begins to look syrupy, about 10 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and spoon 1/2 teaspoon fruit mixture into the small bowl set over ice water. Let sit for 30 seconds. Tip the bowl to one side. The jam should move only slightly. If mixture is too fluid and runs to the side of the bowl, return the skillet to heat and continue to cook until mixture looks thicker, 2 to 4 minutes. Repeat the test and continue to cook, if necessary.

Cool to room temperature before serving, about 1 hour.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's She Up To Now?

I have been a neophyte gardener for about 19 years now. Flowers and herbs only - I wasn't that into vegetables myself for a while, then the kids came along and they really weren't into veggies. Hubby - well, hubby loves ketchup, which used to be a vegetable. 

But reading about heirloom vegetables peaked my interest in perhaps expanding my garden repertoire. But, still no interest from the family.

Until we signed up for the local CSA last summer. Community Supported Agriculture lets you buy all kinds of goodies from local farmers. Between CSA and the farmer's market, we were exposed to some really yummy...yes, veggies.

So, when - yet again - I proposed perhaps planting a few vegetables this year - girls and hubby all said yes.

Wanting to cash in on this unprecedented moment before they came to their senses, I immediately ordered every seed catalog I could find. I've been waving sumptuous pictures of purple and orange carrots and big, juicy strawberries at the family to keep the interest up and the drool coming.

And, since this will be a first for all of us, I thought I'd document the process. Thus, Field of Greens was born.

I'll post pictures, progress reports, successes and failures, recipes, anecdotes and other related miscellanea as this grand adventure unfolds.

If nothing else, it will amuse me while keeping a fun record of The Year We Became Suburban Farmers.

And, if all goes well, I'll be able to share some of our bounty. If the squirrels don't get it first.