Summer’s Here…With Cucumbers

28 Jun

Bla bla bla…started tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, herbs from seed. Planted them. You know the drill. I added a whole bag of organic soil to each tank, and topped off all of the tomato pots. Everyone got food when planted, and tomatoes got a ton of crushed and powdered egg shells. The calcium will hopefully avoid the blossom end rot that I’d dealt with in the past.

One thing I did this year is use plastic containers for pots before ultimately tossing them in the recycling bin.They were great. I used quart yogurt containers, pint sized coconut creamer containers, and cut milk containers in half, drilling holes in all of them. They were large enough that I didn’t have to rush to plant. I’ll do it again next year.

 

Now, we harvest!

Earlier this month I went away for two weeks, and my neighbors watched and watered the garden. They got lucky, as we had the perfect combination of rain and warm weather. Their job was easy, and I came back to GIGANTIC cucumber plants in both tanks! I planted regular cuces and lemon cucumbers, the later being part of a seed trade I did with a friend in the winter. The lemon ones look like lemons but taste normal.

I’ve been picking them for about a week now. I learned that bitter cucumbers are thought to come from irregular watering, which makes sense for me. The difficulty I have with water on the roof sometimes leads to a day or so of improper watering, but I’ve tried to keep up with it this year. Still, the first few green cuces were a bit bitter. Peeling them worked, so I’m not terribly worried. The lemon cucumbers were better though. Taste just like any other cucumber.

Tomorrow…two cucumber recipes!

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Adventures in Wheatgrass

16 Jan

A few years ago I experimented with photo-nov-09-5-59-37-pmsprouts. Here is my chia seed sprouting experiment. I also eventually tried mung beans, adzuki beans, and something else I can’t remember. I wanted to try again with wheatgrass this past fall, mostly for snacks for my bunny friends. It’s supposed to be super healthy, but sprouted wheatgrass makes a nice, fresh treat for buns and cats.

I started with hard red wheat berries. Got them from the bulk bin at MOM’s, but I think most grocery stores have at least packaged wheat berry seeds. In bulk it was around $2.49 a pound. I got about 1/2 pound to start with. In a glass jar, cover seeds with water overnight. I used the ring of the canning jar lid and a piece of polyester batting so air can flow and water can easily come out. Drain the seeds, and lay the jar on its side. Rinse the seeds daily for a day or two. This is about 1/2 cup of dry seeds.

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When they begin to sprout, spread them on a 1/4″ layer of potting soil in a shallow container, basically in a single layer, but it doesn’t have to be exact. (Next time I’m going to try hemp fiber or burlap fabric, just enough for the roots to take hold.) I used the bottom of two take out containers. Then slide the containers into a paper bag or cover with a towel until the grass reaches about 2 1/2″ to 3″ or so, maybe two or three days. You don’t want them to get any light. Keep the soil barely wet the whole time.

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When you hit about 3″, put your grass on a sunny window, and it will turn green and grow another inch or two within a few days. Harvest by cutting where the white turns green, and you’ll be able to cut a second time in about four or five days.

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To use, offer to your favorite bunny or cat friend. Dogs might like it too? I don’t know.photo-nov-10-5-09-58-pm For human use, put it through a juicer and drink. I didn’t want to do that, as my juicer is heavy and a pain to clean, so I just cut a portion (about 1″ x 1″ square) and snipped it into small pieces. Into my Magic Bullet blender with the flat blade and some water, and blend, blend, blend! As soon as you think you’re done, blend for another few seconds. When you have green water and green mash, strain into a glass and press the pulp to get out all of the liquid.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you….it tastes like salad, but in a really weird way.

Happy wheatgrassing!

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A Black Eyed Pea Story (with recipe!)

4 Jan

Happy new year! Did you know that it is thought to be good luck to eat black eyed peas (a subspecies of cowpeas) on New Year’s day? I grew black eyed peas for the first time this past summer.

Late summer brought some jerk beetles to my cucumber and squash plants. Farmer Russell advised pulling the affected plants and replacing with black eyed peas ASAP. They’d help fix the soil, and then I’d be able to compost the plants and dry and eat the beans. They all sprouted within three days, and grew FAST. I tied them to the lattice that I used for the cucumbers.
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photo-jan-04-11-45-36-amThe some pods were 7” long, though most were about 6”, with about 10-12 beans per pod. I let the pods stay on the plants and dry on their own before picking them. I wound up with about two cups of dried beans. I stored them in a jar with one of those silica desiccant packets.

I had rice and black eyed peas for dinner on New Year’s day. I made everything in my small crock pot and used chicken stock (salt free) that I made and pressure canned in August. Very happy with the results!

This made about 2 servings.photo-jan-04-11-55-14-am

½ cup dried black eyed peas, soaked overnight in water
½ medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 cups chicken stock
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

Brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Green onion, chopped, or fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Drain black eyed peas, then add to a small crock pot with onion, garlic, stock, salt, and pepper. Set to low and cook for 6-8 hours until beans are tender. If you have excess liquid when beans are finished, you can add it to the brown rice when cooking. It will add some extra flavor.
Serve beans over brown rice and garnish with green onion or parsley.
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My Tastiest Challah Recipe

17 Aug

This is my basic challah recipe. I found one online that I liked, and, over the course of about a year, I’ve tweaked it to make it my own. Photo Jun 17, 7 34 29 PM

Makes 2 loaves

1 tsp. honey
1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
½ cup oil
¼ cup honey
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs*
3 ½ to 4 cups flour (plus additional for sauce, if needed)
1 beaten egg for final egg wash.

Customize! 
(*2 eggs + ¼ cup apple/fruit sauce. Will need to add additional flour.)
(1 tsp cinnamon)
(sesame seeds or poppy seeds)
(1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or ¾ cup raisins/currants)

Start! 
Dissolve honey in 1 cup warm water, sprinkle yeast on top, and let stand for 10 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t REALLY foamy, it’s stale. Use a new packet.)

Combine yeast water with oil, honey, salt, eggs (and fruit sauce if using, may need to add an additional tablespoon or two of flour) and half of the flour in stand mixer with dough hook. Beat for 1 min on low. Stir in remaining flour. Dough should be on the stickier side. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes. Knead on low 6-8 minutes in mixer, adding flour as needed. Dough should be smooth and elastic.

Knead in cinnamon by hand in 2-3 additions if using. Knead in chips or raisins/currants if using.

(If you’re not using a mixer, combine all ingredients and turn out onto a floured board and knead by hand for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed. Err on the side of sticky. You do not want a dry dough.)

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray or wipe with olive oil, dump dough into bowl and spray/oil top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Punch down, cover and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes.

Divide dough in half, making two loaves. Divide into even strands and braid as desired, fastening ends securely by tucking under. Place on parchment paper on cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm part of your kitchen until double, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds, if desired. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes, until golden brown, turning the cookie sheet once if your oven is uneven. (If making 2 smaller challahs, baking time will be about 25 minutes.)

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Volunteer View

8 Aug

I’ve been neglecting my blog, but not the garden. I’ll get back to updates on that, but first I’d like to share some of my new food related volunteer activities this summer. Fruit, veg, food waste, nutrition.

I can’t garden enough or cook enough to satisfy my own enjoyment, so these activities have allowed me to still participate and have someone else benefit. Everyone wins!

This post is a little bit long.

Gleaning with DC Central Kitchen

DC Central Kitchen makes 5,000 meals a day for homeless shelters, transitional homes, non profits, and some schools in DC. They offer culinary training programs for unemployed people, giving them much needed job skills and setting them up for a better future. Much of DCCK’s food is donated, including produce during the spring, summer, and fall.

The concept of gleaning goes back to biblical days. Farmers allow those in need to pick the edges of their fields. Today, when small, local farmers can’t pick all of the fruit and veg they grow throughout the season, mostly due to staff and time constraints, they allow others to do it for them. Unless it is picked and sold, much of it will be wasted. Solution! DCCK volunteers pick that excess produce to make those 5,000 meals a day. Fruit and veg might look a little strange, be too big, or otherwise unsaleable on the general market. The farm location could change every week, as produce is picked when it is ready. Volunteers often don’t know where they will be until a few days before, but usually about an hour or so from DC. The farmers get a tax donation in the retail value of their donation, fields get picked, volunteers enjoy a morning out in the country, and lots of healthy, ripe, delicious produce makes its way into the kitchen for those in need.

In June, I picked strawberries in Aldie, Virginia. There were only about 6 or 7 volunteers, but we picked two solid rows of perfect, red, ripe, sweet berries. Filled up the DCCK van.

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Also picked some funky shapes. @UglyFruitAndVeg reposted the “hand” shaped fruit!

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There were still several more rows that Photo Jun 03, 12 11 31 AMwe were not able to pick. Even with all of our work, berries went to waste. Later, I picked some for myself in the U-pick rows, and even picked some white strawberries and pickled them. Very interesting. Apple cider vinegar, peppercorns, sugar, salt, caraway seeds, mustard powder (because I didn’t have mustard seeds left, oops.) and I think that was it. They’re still crisp. Taste like…an unripe pickled strawberry, but really I’m not describing them well…they taste better than you’re imagining.

I went out again this past Thursday morning to a farm in Delaplane, Virginia. Much larger group, maybe 15-18 people. There was a corporate group of 5 people, a friend group of about 6, a few stragglers like me. We made quick work of the GIGANTIC zucchinis and yellow squash out in the fields. How does a zucchini get to be over two feet long? A combination of hiding under leaves and avoiding being picked, hot weather, and the right amount of rain. Same for the 10 inch long okra! Our zucchinis weighed over 1,060 pounds! We also picked cucumbers, kale, and swiss chard.

Photo Aug 04, 12 44 12 PM All of that food was cooked and enjoyed within hours. Without volunteers to help pick it, it would have gone to waste in the field, hurting the farmer. I’m signed up for a few more dates in the future. They pick into early November. See the volunteer page for more info.

Common Good City Farm

A true urban farm in DC, Common Good City Farm aims to help low income DC residents meet food needs. They provide veggies to the community, and teach about nutrition and growing veggies through workshops and hands-on training on the farm. They operate a small CSA and farm stand where produce grown on the small farm are sold. Volunteers may water, weed, harvest, or help turn compost, something I enjoy doing, as you may remember from posts of years back!

I’ve visited a few times so far, including once in July and just yesterday. Here’s July’s visit. See the odd water delivery device I’m using? I believe it is called a hose. Wish I had something like that upstairs on the roof…

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And here are some fun farm shots! Check out that eggplant!

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So far I’ve visited Common Good City Farm with a group from the DCJCC and with the Jewish Food Experience.

N Street Village

N Street Village serves women who are homeless or in transition. They provide food, job services, addiction recovery, and any other needs that underserved women in DC might need. I volunteered here with the Jewish Food Experience for the first time last month. They’ve come on a pretty regular schedule, but I haven’t been able to attend until now. I’m really going to try to come again. The early shift prepared and 13724992_10154549857647150_8327389182870452089_oserved breakfast for 70 people, the middle shift prepared lunch, and the later shift served lunch. I sliced up some beautiful tomatoes, a donation from a local farmer who also sells at a local farmer’s market, and layered them with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Tasty, tasty! I didn’t get a photo of the rest of the foods we made, but there were chicken strips with dipping sauces, a variety of salads, and some rugelach, fresh out of the oven. I left before the lunch serving shift started, but I heard that everything was well received.

 

The Great Cucumber Mystery

6 Jun

I had planned to write about picking strawberries for DC Central Kitchen today, but this seemed much more urgent. I have a mystery plant.

Here are the facts:

  • Started cucumbers and Mexican gherkins inside in late April. 7 seedlings from cucumbers, 6 from gherkins. All seeds that I planted sprouted within about 5 days. No duds! Photo May 30, 7 15 42 PM
  • Planted 7 cucumbers and 3 gherkins in the tank on May 30. Gave away one gherkin, two more are waiting for new homes now. Added the trellises for support. They look great. I’m going to get another one for the sweet peas I just planted in the second tank.
  • Left an open space because I though they’d like some additional breathing room.
  • Everything was fine on Saturday, June 4.
  • Sunday, June 5, 1:45 pm I see this cucumber looking guy poking out right in the space I left vacant. Photo Jun 06, 1 13 37 PM

WHAT?

I have no idea. I didn’t plant any additional seeds, and all of the plants I had were already in. This one is in a perfect spot, too. No one else would have done it, I don’t think my neighbors have been up there in a while, and what kind of  gag would that be? “Ha ha won’t it be funny if I follow Emily up to the roof and secretly plant some extra seeds?”

I still don’t know what, exactly, it is, but I’ll update in a few days. If it’s some sort of weed, I’ll just pull it and leave the space empty. If it turns out to be a cucumber, I’ll leave it, I suppose.

Also, I planted the second tank. Removed the GIGANTIC 3′ kale stalks that were still there from last fall. For a while I was picking the baby leaves and just munching them upstairs. They flowered constantly starting in April.

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In went three bell peppers and one hot pepper. I left some of the carrots so I could continue to treat Dolley to some snacks for a few more days. I planted 5 sweet pea seeds, and I’m going to put in a trellis this week for them, too. Not sure what I’ll put in the other side there when the carrots are gone.

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Finally, right this very moment there are 7 DUDES ON THE ROOF MAKING PIPE AND DECK REPAIRS! THEY WILL BE DONE LATER THIS WEEK AND OUR ROOF WILL BE WHOLE AGAIN!

Finally! Let’s Get Started!

1 Jun

This year was going to get off to a late start no matter what. We’re still waiting on roof and deck repairs (see previous post from February), but now we have a construction start date! Besides that, we had nearly a month of rain and unseasonably cool temps, including a few late frosts into May. Little guys wouldn’t have had a chance.

But, we went from 50ish degrees and raining last Sunday to sunny and nearly 90 last Thursday! I hope the cold is finally behind us. Last week I bought new pots and potting soil. Wound up with a bit of a different plan than I had a few months ago, but I think this will be just fine.

First, I started my seedlings off in March, a bit late, knowing that I’d probably not be able to plant them for a few extra weeks because of the roof construction. Some were in peat pots, some were in plastic pots I’d saved from the past, all into salad containers for ease of movement and watering. I put them on a table in the hallway because that part of the building gets a lot of sun. Peat pots are great because they are super cheap and you can just plant the whole thing when the time comes. The plant’s roots will come right through, so there’s much less of a chance of transplant shock. However, they do dry out much faster than plastic pots. New chocolate mint, too. I saw it while shopping for new pots and I just couldn’t resist. Also, some green onions I got in the grocery store that I resprouted.

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This year I also used salad containers. Just filled them with potting mix and planted cucumbers in one, Mexican gherkins in another, and basil in the last one. All three types of containers wound up being terrific in the end.

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I moved everyone upstairs to the elevator landing for about a week before moving them outside. It was much warmer up there, and I was able to get them right on top of the windows. Then outside for a few days, checking to make sure they were not drying out or limp. Because they are right against the building, they got a good amount of shade, too.

This past weekend was planting time. Each teeny tiny tomato went into a 26 quart pot with two little basils, except for one that got parsley. Not sure if the parsley is going to make it, but if not, I could always put another parsley in there. Right now I have one yellow pear tomato, two red cherries, and two roma plants. I’m considering keeping one of the extra romas I still have for another pot. Really want to make up and then can some paste, ketchup, and tomato sauce this summer.

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I also have a new large herb pot with two parsleys, dill, oregano, and thyme. Mint, of course, has its own pot. My mother bought me a gigantic rosemary plant that got its own 26 quart pot, too.

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Into one tank, 7 cucumbers, 3 Mexican gherkins, and two bell peppers. I bought two pieces of lattice trellis things specifically for the climbing things so they don’t have to lay on the fencing anymore. Notice in this photo the tank is not in it’s normal spot! It’s right in front of the entry door for now. Argh. Anyway, the second tank still has some carrots and kale from last year, but I’ll eventually put the rest of the peppers in there, including one hot pepper. Might get a second hot pepper.

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Haven’t planted the sweet peas yet. Might do that in the second tank with the peppers.

Now that I have something to write about, I’ll be updating again on a regular basis.

 

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