Vegetable Love

Planting To Eat

The minute it stops freezing at night, it feels like spring to me, and spring means planting time. Since my planting space is limited, I only plant things I love to eat fresh and use every day. Though I love it raw, as a kid, I used to hate cooked cabbage, largely because of the way it got cooked. When I learned to cook for myself, cabbage became a staple, appearing in many guises through the week. I shred it into slaws, dressed with homemade vinegars or herbed yogurt dressings. I tuck it into sandwiches and wraps, add it to soups and stir fries, and best of all, I roast it in think wedges that turn buttery and tender in the oven.

Because I am often cooking for one, I usually plant smaller cabbages like Mini Super Red 80, a ruddy little ball head with crisp texture and a peppery flavor, or Golden Acre, a compact, tender little thing that is among the earliest to head up. Savoy cabbage, with its netted texture, is idea for capturing salad dressing or sauces, and I especially like an early variety called Mini Alcosa Savoy, which heads up at 2-4 pounds. An excellent flathead cabbage called Tendersweet can be grown in waves from early spring into fall and is lovely in salads and stir fries.

Crazy For Rocket

Arugula is a cabbage cousin that packs a lot of nutrients into its fine-textured foliage. An easy to grow cool season crop, arugula is of course lovely in salads, where its peppery bite adds snap and savor to buttery spinach and tender lettuce. It’s also surprisingly good as a cooked green, wilted quickly in a little oil with garlic and fennel seeds, or tossed into a stir fry at the last minute. You can easily grow arugula as a microgreen indoors or sow it in large outdoor pots placed right out the kitchen door for daily harvest.

There are lots of heritage types, many of them wild forms that have been collected for centuries. Most have serrated or lacy leaves, but some forms are smooth leaved, such as the Italian olive leaf form called Rucola Selvatica A Foglia di Oliva. Most are annuals, but perennial forms can sometimes be found as well (these have denser foliage with a stronger flavor than the annuals). Perennial arugula can be roasted along with kale or sweet potatoes and tart cherries (in season). Yum!

Vegan Veggie Bangers

I love pretty much any roasted vegetables, especially when paired with the spiciness and chewy texture of sausages. Some meatless versions are pretty meh, but the Seattle-based Field Roast varieties are both tasty and toothsome (and vegan, though not gluten-free). There’s an Italian kind, with eggplant, fennel, and lots of garlic (terrific in pasta sauce and lasagna), a Smoked Apple Sage one with Yukon Gold potatoes, Granny Smith apples, sage and ginger (try this one with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes with caramelized onions), and a lively Mexican Chipotle type that’s terrific in tacos, chili, bean soups, and wraps or omelets.

Any or all are satisfying accompaniments to roasted vegetables, from potatoes and leeks to carrots and cauliflower. All they really need is a little sea salt, but a few toppings can make this simple dish fabulous. My go-to is plain Nancy’s yogurt with chopped fresh herbs, a scattering of seeds or chopped nuts, and a squeeze of citrus. If you don’t do dairy, try a splash of vinaigrette instead, using a lemon- or vanilla-infused vinegar and buttery avocado or olive oil.

Cabbage And Sausage Roast

1 tablespoon avocado or any high temp oil
1 medium head green or red cabbage, cored and quartered
4 cups halved, trimmed Brussels sprouts
2 sweet potatoes, thinly sliced in coins
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup raw cranberries (frozen work fine)
4 veggie sausages (Field Roast Italian or any)
1 cup plain yogurt OR 1/4 cup vinaigrette
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 lime, in wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put oil in two rimmed baking sheets and rub to coat. Press both cut sides of each cabbage quarter into the oil and place on a baking sheet. Place sprouts cut-side-down and tuck in sweet potato coins so all is in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Add cranberries and peeled whole sausages and return to oven for 10-15 minutes, turning sausages several times. Divide everything between 4 plates, topping each portion with yogurt or vinaigrette and a scattering of cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Squeeze lime juice over each serving just before eating. Serves 4.

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Eating To Mitigate Climate Change

The Climaterian Diet and Network

A friend sent me a link to Climates, a social network that was started in the UK to connect people who want to live lives that reduce the impacts of climate change. The founders hope to get people thinking and experimenting and sharing carbon footprint-reducing ideas that are practical for anyone anywhere.

It’s easy for first-worlders to feel removed from drastic climate change. However, those of us who live on islands, as I do, have to think about rising sea levels, and all of us will soon be thinking more and more about food sourcing, among other things. Once you’ve dusted off your bicycle and changed your light-bulbs and made all the other simple fixes, what’s next? Well, something had better be next: Those of us in first world countries enjoy unprecedented choice and abundance, yet the uncomfortable truth is, the more abundance we enjoy and the more we spend, the greater our carbon footprint is likely to be.

Eat That The World May Live

Here’s something to think about: The average footprint for people in United States is 20.40 metric tons.
The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons.
The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons.
Wow, right?
Not sure you believe me? Here’s the source:

Wherever we reside on that sliding scale, the quickest way to shrink our carbon footprint is to make a climaterian change of our own. If all meat eaters simply switched from beef and lamb to pork and poultry, each person would shrink a ton a year off their footprint. Food production creates up to a third of all greenhouse gasses, and the bulk of that comes from raising beef. Over half of crops grown worldwide are used for meat animal feed, again mostly for beef.

How Now Dead Cow?

Leonard DiCaprio has made a film that is inspiring protests against global destruction caused by beef raising practices. Here’s a horrifying, action-inspiring glimpse of what lies behind beef production:

Less Meat Or Meatless

Obviously, enjoying lower-impact meats and reducing the amount of beef and lamb each family eats is a good start. If your family is novelty-averse, the first step might be to cook pork and poultry in recipes where you might ordinarily use beef, such as stew. Instead of making a pork stew that doesn’t taste familiar, use your usual beef-based recipe but substitute pork (and don’t say anything about it unless somebody asks). Next, try it with turkey or chicken or duck to see which variation is most pleasing to those you love to feed.

A good next step might be to begin serving sustainably harvested fish weekly. Salmon burgers are a good start for many kids; not only are they delicious, but once you put enough ketchup on the bun, the patty flavor is less important. Fish and chips, grilled salmon, fish tacos and fish sticks are all good ways to nudge the family meal pattern away from meat.

The Green Shift

Changing slowly over to an increasingly vegetarian diet can shrink your carbon footprint by half. If you already eat a meatless meal once a week, try having a weekly meatless day. If you get push back, instead of announcing the new trend, just do it. Experiment to find tasty, intriguing vegetarian recipes the whole family enjoys and simply serve them without comment. (Many people won’t notice there’s no meat unless you point it out.)

Short of not using a car, few other changes we can make offer as much positive impact. One that does is of course to grow at least some of our own food, using organic methods. Small changes are easier to make than huge ones, but many small shifts can add up to very large and positive results! Here’s my current favorite tantalizing recipe to inspire you to create your own taste sensations:

Spunky, Chewy, Zingy Tacos

Chewy, organic yellow corn tortillas make this simple dish especially toothsome. For the most intriguing texture, fry the tortillas on both until they bubble, using just a slick of avocado oil. Add your favorite cheese and salsa to make this high-satiety meal even more satisfying. Have all ingredients prepped so you can serve (or eat) these amazing treats straight from the pan.

Avocado Lime Tacos

8-10 6-inch yellow corn tortillas (organic if possible)
1-2 teaspoons avocado oil (or any high-temp oil)
1/2 cup salsa
2-3 ounces extra sharp cheddar or any cheese
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet peppers (saladini or any)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2-3 ripe avocados, thickly sliced
few grans sea salt
1-2 fresh limes, in wedges

Brush a heavy frying pan with oil and place over medium high heat for 1 minute. Fry a tortilla on both sides until it bubbles, then spoon a little salsa on half and a slice of cheese on the other half. Put some raw onion and peppers on the salsa side and cilantro on the cheese side, then add avocado slices to the salsa side and sprinkle with salt. Squeeze lime juice generously over it all, fold in half and eat at once. Serves at least one.

More Info:

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Commemorative Plantings

Welcoming Baby Lovejoy

Yesterday, my beautiful granddaughter was born at her home, surrounded by loving family and friends. I could not help but contrast this joyful event with the gathering to celebrate the passing of my mother, also at home and so very recently. Home births and home deaths have become rare in this country, yet both are among life’s most profoundly moving experiences and none of us truly get to skip either one, that’s for sure. As Kate tended and bathed our newest baby at her first homecoming, I remembered how lovingly Kate and I bathed and dressed Mom for her last home leaving.

So often these tender duties are carried out not by family members but by nurses. Kind and attentive as they may be (and usually are), something is missing from a life that does not willingly include the gritty realities of birth and death. I assume that the attendant unpleasantnesses are off-putting to many and I get that (the laundry alone is daunting even to an enthusiast), but I also suspect that even more folks let others do those first and last bathings and dressings because they are worried that they might not know what to do or just how to do it. A tiny baby seems so fragile, and the newly dead are so empty of life. Both states can certainly be intimidating to the uninitiated, though both are a normal part of every life. The good news is that both are simple, peaceful, earthy tasks that are really quite straight forward while also having an aspect of holiness to them.

Celebrating Comings And Goings 

Mom would have been thrilled to meet her second great-grandchild, perhaps especially because she is an adorable girl child (our family runs heavily to delightful boys). I am absolutely thrilled myself that my darling O has a baby sister, not least because I know how lovingly and respectfully and wisely she will be parented. Every child deserves such raising and what a world we would share if each of them/us received the equivalent. It’s such an honor and such a deep, abiding pleasure to be part of the raising of these children and I love imagining what remarkable adults they will be.

In our family, both births and deaths (of dear people and dear pets) are often celebrated by planting something. For beloved critters, I sometimes plant rosemary for remembrance, choosing hardy, enduring varieties like Arp, which can live for decades. For people, I may plant a favorite tree (my dad has a Japanese maple, while. It’s important to choose a species that is well adapted to the environment you can offer, because losing a memorial tree can feel dreadful.

Long Lived And Sustainable

I learned this lesson the hard way, since both my dad and Bud loved Japanese maples and both of their first memorial trees were lost to verticillium. Thus, I now always pick hardy, vigorous, and disease resistant trees that will (probably) thrive in the memorial site. (Bud now has a lovely Purple Prince crabapple and Dad has a weeping sequoia, which he would admire for its sinuous slenderness.) Sometimes long lived shrubs are a better choice: For my mom, I planted my favorite winter flowering witch hazel, Hamamalis x intermedia Pallida, with glowing, deep yellow flowers that send their deliciously penetrating fragrance throughout the garden on still, warm winter days. I’ve planted memorial roses as well as camellias and rhododendrons, and even a gorgeous Midwinter Fire twiggy dogwood, now the size of a small tree.

To celebrate births, I usually choose something with a sweet association; my son Andrew was also born in January and our native Scouler willows are always in catkin bloom for his birthday, as are tiny Tete a Tete daffodils, so I’ve planted that combo in several of my gardens. My other son likes lilies, and I plant those in his honor as well as deep purple lilacs, which were blooming when he was born. For O, I planted Cotinus x Grace, a superb smoke bush with fantastic color from early spring into late fall, as well as a lovely coral orange rose from the grocery store. These little roses are dwarfed in their pots, but often prove very hardy when planted in the garden, usually achieving around 3 feet in height and girth.

Blooming And Fruiting

O has a pretty little pear tree planted in his honor at his own home, and his sister will have a lovely, ruffled pink camellia in the back yard as well. I’m planting another one for her in my own garden, called (regrettably) Pink-A-Boo, a handsome, shapely winter bloomer with open, anemone-like flowers of rosy pink centered with fluffy golden stamens. It’s a sport of Yuletide, one of my favorite winter bloomers and a very good, long lived garden performer. Our newest darling will also get a rose, though I’m not sure yet which one. However, hers will most likely be a rich coral pink and fragrant.

An informal poll of gardening friends showed that, give the choice of our own memorial trees, nearly all of us would chose species that offered both flowers and fruit for people and/or birds and other wild things. I myself am very fond of crabapples, especially the newer disease-resistant varieties. Among the healthiest is Golden Raindrops, a cutleaf form with pink buds and white flowers followed by profuse bright yellow fruit that lingers well into winter. It reaches 10-15 feet in time, so where space is limited, I often use compact Tina (Malus toringo ssp. sargentii Tina), a lovely little tree with a perfect canopy and daintily spreading branches. Often called Sargent Tina, this shrub-like tree tops out at around 6-8 feet if grated and 8-12 feet on its own roots, offering the usual rosy bud and white flowers as well as red fruit and warm fall color.

Top Pick?

For myself, I think I’d opt for a handsome, compact crabapple called Centennial, or perhaps a Yuletide camellia. Or maybe a Blue Ice Arizona cypress. Or…whatever my dear family decides will quite certainly be just fine by me!

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Hearty, Healing Onion Family Winter Soups

Eating Well When Pollen Puffs And Rain Pours

For my family, January opens the snuffle season with a vengeance. Plump hazel and alder buds spill their casual abundance freely and the relentless winds bring it all home to us. Cool, damp days let molds and mildews flourish in the garden (and indoors as well). For indoor molds and mildews, I use Bac-Out (a combo of live enzyme-producing cultures, citrus extracts and essential oils) instead of the usual deadly arsenal, some of which trigger worse sensitivities than the mold does. In the garden, well, I just sneeze and bear it.

Many allergy experiencers share the red-eyed, snuffle-nosed state pollen induces, though we all wish we did not. Pollen is a huge culprit, since pollen-rich shrubs and trees abound, from natives to garden varieties. This is especially so because so many tree and shrub cultivars are males, chosen for the lack of sloppy fruit. Sadly, these studly guys are major pollen producers, while those fruity females are not.

Restorative, Preventative, Wholesome, Healing

Not only does January mark open season for pollen production, it’s also the traditional time to experience colds and flu. Happily, the noble onion family is especially good at helping those who suffer from stuffy noses and sore throats, whatever the cause. Indeed, when researchers figured out that Mom really was right and chicken soup actually can help heal a cold, the benefit had nothing to do with chicken; it turned out to be largely due to the combination of steam and onions. The entire onion family contains compounds that boost the immune system and help fight infection naturally. Since they also add savor and warmth to almost anything, why not harness those powerful antioxidants at every meal?

On chilly days, nothing is more warming, of both body and heart, then a fragrant pot of homemade soup. Besides, soup is fun to make and a supremely good way to clean the fridge. One secret to great soup is to make it ahead and reheat it. Another is to cook soup slowly, for long, patient hours. When neither choice is possible, good cooks just get more creative. Here are some quick, satisfying, and inexpensive soups that will taste terrific tonight and fabulous tomorrow, should there be any left.

A Sturdy, Vegan Italian Classic

If French onion soup is a family favorite, rich-tasting Italian Garlic Soup will also please. A snap to make, this sumptuously silky soup is lively with garlic and onions, both of which are famous as cold and flu chasers. The addition of raw garlic makes this soup especially lively but you can simply stir it into the soup before serving and let it poach gently for a minute or two to mellow the bite if desired.

Italian Garlic Soup

2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 plump heads garlic, cloves peeled and lightly crushed
3 cups chopped potatoes (Yukon Gold, Carola or any)
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
4 cups Tuscan kale, sliced in 1/4-inch ribbons
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 slices crusty rosemary- or herb-bread, toasted and cubed

In a soup pot, cook half the oil, onions, salt, and all but 3 big cloves of garlic over medium heat to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add potatoes and pepper flakes, cover pan and cook until sweated (3-5 minutes). Add 8 cups water, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add kale and cook until barely limp (4-5 minutes). Puree remaining olive oil and raw garlic with an immersion blender or in a food processor, set aside. Puree hot soup with an immersion blender and serve, garnished with toast and raw garlic oil. Serves 4.

Potato Leek And More Soup  

Potatoes are always comfort food, and savory Potato Leek Soup is especially welcome on a cold winter’s night. This vegan version is made very simply, but various additions from spinach to smoked tofu are also excellent in this rich-tasting yet speedy soup. For freshest flavor, make a self-stock instead of greasy broth: Simmer the onion and garlic peels and ends, carrot and potato peels (if you prefer them peeled), celery ends and foliage with a little salt and 6 cups water, then strain.

Mostly Potato Leek Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

In a soup pot, heat oil over medium high heat with onion, leeks, and salt and cook, stirring, until tender (4-5 minutes). Add celery, potatoes and carrots, cover pan and cook until sweated (3-5 minutes). Stir in hot strained broth, thyme and paprika, adding water as needed to cover potatoes by an inch. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover pan and cook until vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes). Serve as is or puree with an immersion blender. Serves 4.

A Dollop Of Seasonal Greens

Hearty winter greens, whether Black Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, or a mix, give this simple and flavorful Curried Sweet Potato Soup fresh flavors and splendid nutritional value, while cilantro and fresh lime juice add a lively lift.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

1 tablespoon avocado or safflower oil
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups (or 1 can) cooked garbanzo beans, drained
1-2 teaspoons curry powder (mild or hot)
2 tablespoons dried tart cherries or golden raisins
2 tablespoons raw jasmine or basmati rice
1 15 ounce can organic coconut milk
6 cups chopped mixed winter greens
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
1 lime, in wedges

In a soup pan, combine oil, onions, garlic, celery, sweet potatoes, cumin seeds and salt over medium high heat. Cover pan and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are sweated (3-5 minutes). Add garbanzo beans, curry powder, dried fruit, and rice and stir to coat. Add water to barely cover, then add coconut milk and greens. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook until rice is tender (18-20 minutes). Adjust seasoning and serve hot, garnished with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Serves 4-6.

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