It's been a long time coming. Looking back now I see how significant and appropriate my last post would become as I longed for some sunlight in the midst of a long winter. There have been so many changes since I was last here.
Best of all, I have a wonderful new son! Well, son-in-law to be exact, but we have wished for a son around here for so many years that we will call him son if his delightful parents don't mind! Of course there was a tree planting during the wedding ceremony and I just had to smile realizing that the bride chose "Here Comes the Sun" played by a string trio, to walk down the aisle to. I had forgotten this song was where I had last left off from blogging.
What else is new? I have a new job, a new shape (30 pounds thinner), and a new attitude! God has answered many prayers over the past 18 months and proved again that He is more than able to do even more than we could ever imagine or hope for!
Some days the bugs can really get you down. I find this is especially true on long summer days when tomato hornworms demolish your best tomato plants and spider mites suck the life out of your lemongrass. Experienced gardeners learn over time not to take these attacks personally.They know that when one plant flounders another will jump in and flourish in its place.
This week I watered my garden thoroughly and then packed the car and drove away for a few days. I'm trying not to worry about what is going on back home and hoping the neighbors came by and helped themselves to some cucumbers and squash.
Meanwhile I have been enjoying the gardens far from home in NYC and Brooklyn. I am learning a lot about small space gardens here and the importance of picking the right plants for the right places. In New York City every inch of space counts and there is no room for error. Color and style abound from postage stamp sized front stoops, window boxes, fire escapes and even the sidewalk cracks..
One of the most delightful gardens I have visited here is the Children's Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This garden has thoughtfully planted soft grassy spaces for toddlers to sprawl in, and whimsical child-sized seats hidden under long draping boughs of weeping mulberry. There are scented and soft silvery petting plants. There are tiny herb gardens, interactive waterfalls and a dark cool grove of giant bamboo for curious kiddos to discover.
There is also a spacious vegetable garden planted in the children's area. This lush vegetable garden is impeccably maintained with rows and rows of plants. The wide and bountiful rows are absolutely bursting with great big cabbages and all manner of produce plants. Unfortunately for me this garden taunts grown up gardeners from the other side of a picketed gate stenciled with a stern warning:, "children only past this point". A ten foot topiary spider of ivy and iron stands guard as children enter this whimsical retreat . I couldn't help wondering how many new horticulturalists there would be in the future because of this magical place. It was obvious by all the happy little patrons I saw skipping through the space that the garden was indeed capturing the imaginations and hearts of many children the day we visited.
As we were leaving the Children's Garden I glanced back to see a group of children busily gardening under the careful guidance of several young garden volunteers. Children were flitting like bees in and out of a small building oblivious to the message poignantly chiseled in the limestone lintel above the door. The message said.."HE IS HAPPIEST WHO HATH POWER TO GATHER WISDOM FROM A FLOWER".
That message makes me smile. I especially smile when I think of all the profound things God has taught me in a garden. I hope you too have been able on occasion to hear God speak through nature. If not, then I suspect you are not listening, for God's voice is unmistakable there as he shouts from tenacious little seedlings and whispers in the winding tendrils of a vine. Sometimes He screams words of wisdom from a trail of garden ants, or mutters sweet nothings under the falling petals of a pear tree.
If you want to know what God is saying, I recommend spending some time in a quiet garden spot. I am pretty certain that you will come away agreeing with the stone mason's message carved above that door way....that he is happiest who hath power to gather wisdom from a flower.
One of my favorite ways to use and eat fresh vegetables is spring rolls! I just love the taste bud sensation of cool rice paper wrappers crammed with a vibrant explosion of flavor. Since my garden is overflowing with radishes, snap peas, cilantro, and assorted greens, I can think of no better way to use them then this dish. It takes some time to chop and assemble but it's worth the effort. Spring rolls have become a regular craving for me.
My spring roll ingredient list is never the same twice. You can add in any cooked meat or seafood you like, but I prefer them vegetarian style. I start with romaine, spinach, chard, or a combination of large leafy greens for an inner wrap to contain the rest of the veggies. I actually used a few young beet leaves the last time I made these, having pleasantly mistaken nearby beet greens for ruby chard while picking in the garden.
Next, I chop vegetables into short thin sticks or smallish pieces. Cucumbers, radish, snap peas, carrots, cabbage, and celery all lend a terrific crunch. I sometimes add raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, avocados and or nuts as well. Sometimes I add rice noodles prepared as directed. Often I get so excited about the vegetables that I forget the noodles.
To top things off I add fresh ginger shavings, a bit of cilantro and minced garlic or onion. Cilantro gives the roll a nice punch, though this is one herb I add sparingly, much to the dismay of my oldest daughter, who would sneak more cilantro in if she were standing by. Finally I add a hint of dressing which can be a lemon honey vinegrette or an asian style dressing. For dipping, I like to use hoisen sauce jazzed up with some wasabi and ginger, but you can also use soy sauce or any asian style dressing or dipping sauce.
Assembling the rolls can be a bit of a challenge. I wet two rice paper circles well, and set them on a cutting board. The wet rice paper will quickly soften into a cool moist flexible wrapper. Next I lay a large leaf or two of romaine or other greens on top the rice paper to help contain the rest of the veggies. Then I drop a few peices of each of my remaining ingredients in the center of the leaf. Usually I put too much stuff in and have to go back and remove something or else I end up with a ripped and bulging roll which tastes fine but looks unimpressive.
When I get the insides just right, I begin on one end carefully rolling both the rice paper and the leaf wrapper together over the inner ingredients. I tuck the sides into the roll just before I get to the halfway point of rolling. If I try to wet more than two rice papers at a time, I find they get too soft for me to roll them easily. I don't have restaurant style neatness and conformity on my finished spring rolls yet, but then good gardeners are seldom perfectionists. Finally I slice the rolls in half on the diagonal to get a colorful presentation on the plate. Any goofed up rolls get gobbled down by me in the back room! Left over cut up vegetables get tossed into a stir fry or a salad the next day.
Spring rolls are a fun way to use vegetables and a great way to experiment with some new ingredients. You can find rice papers, hoisen sauce and anything else you need in the asian section of most large grocery stores. With any luck you will find yourself developing a new craving for colorful crunchy spring rolls all year long!
Things are really coming along here in my little 5' x 10' raised bed garden. I am amazed at what I can grow in such a small space. The spinach and radishes are about done. The marigolds and nasturtium failed from the get go, but the squash and tomatoes are going crazy. We have been eating sugar snap peas and lettuce like crazy from the garden. The beans are flowering and the eggplant is holding its own.
I think this picture displays the magic of square foot gardening! radish, leeks, peas, beans carrots and baby beets all snuggled in close. Because every inch is planted weeds are nearly non existant at this point. I can weed this bed in 1 minute a day. No tilling or digging because beautiful loose organic soil was trucked in and dumped 1 foot high. When the radishes come out the carrots take over their place. The peas are shading the spinach for an extra week or two of sweet harvesting. And best of all my neighbors think I am a genius! Little do they know that anyone could do this with a tiny bit of planning and the right seeds. Tomatoes and squash are duking it out and the basil has been divine! The peas which didnt require staking are sure happy that they got some support anyhow! And I am finding myself dreaming about vegetables.
We have radishes out the wazzoo! I have tried several radish salad recipes but so far none are keepers. I did however find that I love radish sandwiches!!! This would also be a great appetizer dip or topping for crackers or celery. I used 4 oz cream cheese softened and a heaping tablespoon of chopped chives with 2 garlic cloves minced and salt and pepper to taste. I sliced thin about 7 or 8 radishes which had been halved or quartered depending on their size. I salted the radishes and set them in a colander over a paper towel and let them drain for about twenty minutes. After that I squished out a bit more water from the radishes and mixed them with the above ingredients. We spread the mixture on both rye toast and a bagel! The results were delish!
This is as formal as it gets around my yard. I love the look of a formal parterre mixed with herbs and fruit trees. But not too fussy or groomed. The gravel for my paths came from a client's home when she no longer wanted it and the brick was left over from a construction site. I have been having a heck of a time this year due to rabbits eating my parsley and a few other things. In this picture you can see creeping thyme and curry in the urn, surrounded by 4 squares of oregano, sage, parsley and dill. The inside of the circle is also ringed with purple basil which is sitting defiantly in its place refusing to grow an inch since I moved it out from the nice warm house and the grow lights. Reminds me a bit of a child I know...heheh! Well, eventually I hope they both get happier where they are and begin to burst forth with new life!
Other things planted in my herb garden are lavender, echinacea, love lies bleeding, lemon thyme, english thyme, genovese basil, bloody sorrel, chocolate mint, bronze fennel, cilantro, chives, a few stray tomatoes and a struggling old espaliered bartlett pear tree. I pulled up all the french tarragon last year because it had grown so old and woody. Since then I have not found any new tarragon worthy of planting.
This year I proudly outwitted the chives by picking off all the lovely chive flowers before they went to seed which I hope will save me a lot of trouble next year digging out stray chive plants from the gravel path. But I was sorry to remove those pretty little purple balls since they were about the only spring color in the parterre other than green. Somewhere in my herb garden I vaguely remember planting some seeds for a greek oregano that was supposed to make a really swell immune boosting oil of oregano. It was the end of a long day working in the yard and planting way too many seed packets. I was in a panic trying to find an empty spot for the last seeds on my list. I should have used a plant marker because the location of this new oregano has completely left my memory.
If you decide to plant an herb garden, be sure you keep it close to the kitchen, for if you are like me, you will be scurrying out the door once or twice during most meal preparation snipping a bit of this or that for seasonings. Whenever I am at a loss for what to make, I grab a bit of english thyme from the garden and sprinkle it on chicken breasts, sometimes still frozen. I top the chicken with some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and garlic. Finally I add a dash of salt and pepper and bake uncovered for a half hour or so, depending on whether the breasts are thawed or not. The results are always delicious and satisfying.