Tag Archives: winter garden

The chard before the storm

Swiss chardEarly June is a relatively quiet time in my vegetable garden. The spring greens, spinach and lettuce are all done, and the summer crops aren’t ready. There are a few plums each day, and we will have a deluge of peaches to deal with soon. But pretty much the only big producer right now is Swiss chard. Here in Oklahoma Swiss chard is a much better bet than spinach. It will produce  year round if you give it enough room, pick it frequently, and cover it in the winter (in a cold frame or hoop house). This week I’m cooking the following:

Curried Chard and Lentils: Cook 1/2 cup of green lentils in 1 cup of water. Sauté 4 cups of chopped chard in a little olive oil until limp. Combine the (hot) lentils and chard with 1 large minced clove of garlic, 2 tsp of Madras curry powder, and 2 oz of cream cheese. Stir until cream cheese is melted throughout. Serve with brown rice.

Chard and green chili breakfast strata: Butter, oil, or spray a casserole dish. Cover bottom with crushed/broken/stale tortilla chips. Sprinkle with chopped green chilis or other hot peppers. Cover with shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack is good), then cover with chopped and sautéed chard. Top with cubed white bread. Beat up eggs with milk, as you would for French toast, and pour over the top (it doesn’t need to cover the bread). Let it sit for a while – overnight also works – then cook at 350 until the eggs are just set and the bread is golden toasty. You don’t need to add salt because the bread, cheese, and tortilla chips all have salt.

Massaged chard salad: Use the smaller and more tender leaves for this. Chop or tear the chard leaves into large pieces. (I also like to add chopped Italian parsley or mint.) Massage with olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and a bit of sea salt. Top with chopped walnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and grated hard cheese. NOTE: The raw garlic can sometimes be hot/aggressive, so you might want to sauté it a wee bit in olive oil first. Also, this massaged chard is also really good as a pizza topping. Put it on last, and watch to see that it doesn’t burn too much.




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Late fall update

In the (hoop) house: Still producing – one cherry tomato, one cucumber, several peppers, and green beans. Ready to eat – bok choi, onions, leeks, and KALE. Up and growing nicely – lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprouts, more leeks, broccoli, cilantro, Swiss chard, turnips, rutabagas and garlic.

New fireplaceNew fireplace: After living for 15 years with a mantel but no fireplace*, we finally made a decision and purchased (online) a ventless gas fireplace with mantel. Mike stained it in September, we put it in position in October, and connected the gas in November. We still need to finish the wall opening and put in some slate or tile beneath the surround. *The Universalist Fellowship, which owned our house in the 1970’s, removed the original gas fireplace. The next owners got so far as to buy an old mantel, but never completed their project.

Pickles, salsa, chutney: Throughout the fall I’ve been pickling and canning stuff, mostly involving peppers. Green sauce/salsa, pepper relish, Mexican escabeche, and chutney.

grating lemongrassLemongrass harvest: We finally got a frost last week, so we had to bring in all the houseplants, and my three big pots of lemongrass. Every year I’d tell myself that I was going to do something with the lemongrass, and this year I finally did. I cut the stalk about 3″ from the soil, then removed the leaves so all I had was the stalk. I washed and cut it into 4″ pieces and froze them in a ziplock bag. To use them in cooking I simply take out a stalk and grate it with my microplane grater, or throw a stalk or two into a soup. Here are links to previous posts that pertain to lemongrass: Vietnamese Penicillin, Viet FeastThai Seafood Hotpot, and Grass of Lemon

Oklahoma road trips: Since September Mike and I have done three Oklahoma weekend rambles.

  • First to Roman Nose State Park near Watonga, OK, where we stayed at the very nice, newly remodeled lodge. Saturday we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the patio with two pots of French press coffee. The night before we’d stopped at Eischen’s Bar  in Okarche – the oldest bar in Oklahoma – for fried chicken and fried okra. Saturday afternoon we took back roads on the way home and I was amazed at the number of wind generators that had been put up.

Eischen's bar in Okarche, OK Roman Nose Lodge patio  Wind generator, south of Weatherford, OK

  • Second on our list was Lake Murray in southern Oklahoma. Beautiful setting, but an incredibly dumpy lodge. I felt like I’d fallen into a time warp and emerged in 1965. We did have a fabulous catfish dinner on the banks of the Washita River at McGehee’s near Marietta. Thank goodness they have big billboards directing you to the restaurant, else we’d never have found it.
  • Third on the list is the town of Woodward, where I went to attend a family wedding (at the old theater), and then Mike and I returned two weeks later to pick up some antique chairs I’d bought. Once again, lots more wind farms going up, and we met Mike’s cousins for a great lunch at Waggs Bar-B-Q. We weren’t there long enough to visit Alabaster Caverns, but that is definitely worth doing if you’re in the area.

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What’s shakin’?

Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted. I had this little thing called a dissertation to write…

USGS map

USGS map showing where the earthquake was felt

If you live in the USA you may have heard about (or felt) the earthquakes we’ve been having. All the the strongest ones (4.7, 5.6, 4.7) occurred at night while I was sitting in my big leather easy chair. I was actually on the phone with Aric when the 5.6 record-breaker shaker hit. Last night we had a 4.7 while most of the state was under a tornado watch! Oh, and yeah, OKC was dealing with flash flooding at the same time. Crazy. We’ve had a record-breaking year in many categories. We lived in California for 8 years and I never felt any as strong as the 5.6 and certainly not as many clustered so close together.

The map above is the product of a form on the USGS earthquake web site page Did You Feel It?After I feel a quake I immediately go this page and fill out the form (yeah, I know I’m a geek). Kate said she felt the 5.6 in St. Louis. I saw on the interweb that people in Wisconsin also felt it.

Chinese cabbageMike has put the plastic on the hoop houses and things are looking fine. We have lettuce, arugula, red mustard, and cilantro to eat, and I can start harvesting Asian greens at any time. And in the hoop houses we still have peppers (lordy, do we have peppers!). Speaking of which, I found a great way to roast and peel chilis. I just put them in my convection toaster oven on high for about 8 to 10 minutes, then wrap them in a dishtowel for a minute or two. They are easier to peel and less messy than roasting them on the grill or over a gas flame, and you don’t have to worry about the smoke alarm going off. You don’t get the fire-roasted flavor of course, but it sure is convenient.Pepper abundance Other veggies started under the hoops: spinach, chard, leeks, kale, lettuce, and carrots. All but the chard and spinach are from saved seed! Still left to harvest are peppers and sweet potatoes.

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Hoop House


The best present ever!

Holiday Greetings! All the kids and our new granddaughter, Mira, were home this week, along with Mike’s mom, so there has been constant commotion in the kitchen (I unloaded the dishwasher 3 times yesterday).  We had both smoked and roasted turkey with the traditional cornbread stuffing, mashed ‘taters, gravy, cranberry sauce, and 5-cup ambrosia salad.  Matt made some incredibly awesome Russian black bread, Kate made gingerbread cookies,  Aric did the pies (apple-cranberry and sweet potato), and Tuan helped out by keeping Mira entertained and happy.  Bob brought both green bean and asparagus casserole, and Andy and Leah arrived in town just in time for dinner.

As for gardening, in October and November Mike made two walk-in hoop houses to cover three garden beds each. We’ve had some low (15 F) and high (70 F) temps since then, and so far the lettuce, greens, herbs, carrots, or leeks under the plastic are doing well. A second planting of arugula, lettuce and cilantro are coming up, and I’m excited about the possibility of getting peas, spinach, and potatoes started in the next few weeks. I’m also going to try fava beans this spring; I bought several different varieties when we were in England last May. Kim sent me three new varieties of garlic – Siberian, Chesnock Red and Asian Tempest – so I’ll plant them this week in the hoop houses to give them a good start (because you know I never have enough garlic – HA!).

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Unseasonably cold & warm: typically Oklahoma

LettuceAfter a couple week of unseasonably cold temperatures (lows in the single digits), we are now experiencing unseasonably warm/mild temperatures (lows in the 40’s). However, in Oklahoma the weather fluctuates so much that the term “unseasonable” ceases to have meaning. Today I took a peek under the row covers to see what had survived. The weeds – henbit, chickweed, and rye grass – were flourishing, of course. Small seedling of pak choi and mustard looked good; the larger plants were sadly burned, although most of them will pull through. The spinachspinach looked good, and most surprisingly, the lettuce looked great (Amish Deer Tongue, especially).

Although it feels like I’m jumping the gun, it’s about time to start things for my spring garden. I’m going to start spinach in peat pellets again this year, and try the same with Swiss Chard and lettuce. I’m not going to do peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes.

Tonight we’re going to Barb & Mark’s for a dinner party. We’re taking a nice rustic loaf of bread Mike made, and I’ve made three spreads: Red pepper hummus, green pea “guacamole”, and herbed cheese. For the peacamole I started with this recipe, and then (of course!) made some substitutions.

  • Fresh cilantro, not essential oil (I’ve never even heard of this before)
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp pickled jalepenos
  • Sesame seed tahini instead of almond butter

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Undercover garden and Russian black bread

Well winter has arrived in typical Oklahoma fashion – one day it’s 65 degrees and the next day it is 15. At least it didn’t arrive along with a horrific ice storm! The garden beds are covered, and we are harvesting some greens, beets, green onions, cilantro, parsley, and radishes. This is supplemented by the last of our tomatoes and of course plenty of garlic.

Tunnel cloches or mini hoop houses

Undercover garden beds

With one or two nights in the teens and several in the 20’s the fennel seedlings and young mustard greens are not very happy, even in the tunnels. However, the lettuce, bok choi, and arugula seem unphased. At a holiday gathering a friend mentioned how much he loved arugula and how expensive it was at his grocery. It occurred to me that I could quit my job and make a living growing arugula – it is so ridiculously easy to grow!

With the arrival of cold weather (and some discussion with Matthew in Vladivostok)  I have been motivated to try my hand with Russian black bread. Mike and I bought a loaf of so-called black bread at the Central Market in Dallas last weekend. Although it was a beautiful dark loaf, it was disappointing, taste-wise (too “Americanized” to really be Russian black bread). So I research some recipes on the Internet and read about it in my bread book, and then came up with the recipe that follows. This is a dense, pungent, and slightly sour black bread. It is excellent sliced thin and eaten open-faced with egg salad, smoked salmon spread, etc., and also toasted and buttered. It won’t work so well as a sandwich bread.

  • 1.5 cups sourdough sponge starter*
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 1 cup bran cereal, crushed/ground in blender
  • 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 Tbsp espresso ground coffee
  • 2 Tbsp dried onion powder
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 2 tsp ground caraway seed
  • 4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups dark beer
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter

*There are various ways to make a sourdough starter, but this one is a classic.

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Warm the beer, water, and vinegar up in the microwave or in a pan until warm (not boiling).
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the sourdough sponge, alternating with the liquid. The dough will be quite sticky.
  4. Spread a good layer of unbleached white flour on a cotton dishtowel and dump the dough onto it. Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough and begin kneading. Knead for about 5 minutes, incorporating as much flour as you can.
  5. Oil a large bowl and place the kneaded dough in it, cover with the dishtowel, and place in a warm place.
  6. After the dough has almost doubled* punch it down and knead again, adding more flour if necessary, and kneading in the 1/4 cup of butter.
  7. Shape into loaves (I made three small round loaves), place on an oiled cookie sheet, and cover once more with the dishtowel. Let rise until almost doubled.
  8. Cook in a 350 degree oven about 40 – 50 minutes. (This is a dense bread, and it won’t sound “hollow” when tapped.)

*The amount of time it will take for your dough to rise depends upon how “active” your sourdough sponge is, and how warm the room is.

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