Thursday, April 28, 2011

No peas in pods here

Look, I know I’m new to this gardening stuff, but something seems off to me about the peas. Remember when the first pea came up and we were all relieved and you guys sent me that nice champagne/mozzarella stick gift basket and the post office lost it? Well… I don’t think that was a pea. Let’s look at the facts: it came up days and days before the others, and… it doesn’t match. I mean, they don’t look the same. I know, I played a lot of Memory as a kid.

First “pea”:
New batch of peas:
I feel like someone mixed a piglet into my Border Collie litter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Relish the radish

I have three words for you: French breakfast radishes. Are you on to them, too? I’m sure you are. I’m way behind the times and must lament: Why oh why did I waste all of those years eating only white foods? I’m so ashamed.
Ignore their unnerving resemblance to fingers and FBRs are perfect for snacking with a strong crunch and mild flavor. I considered replanting our empty pea field with my new favorite variety of radish, but the rebel army is starting to grow in earnest. Homegrown radishes will have to wait; market-bought radishes will wait no more.
Legend has it that slicing Fradishes thinly and eating them on fresh bread with a little salt and perhaps some butter is the height of breakfast delight. I took that to a new level for my lunch. Clap your hands and say “pecorino.”  The salty sheep’s milk cheese is a fantastic addition to an open-faced buttered baguette and radish sandwich.
The radishes also add a cool bite to a chive-pecorino scrambled egg sandwich. (The subtheme of this post is my reliance on baguette as a vehicle for radish consumption.)
Crisp, bright, and light these veggies are prettier in pink than Molly Ringwald—and I feel sure that given the chance they would pick Ducky. Yeah. I went there.

Officially a poacher

Look who finally managed to poach an egg! It’s all about the whirlpool.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

You can tell me all about what you did today (what you did today)

I’m a fan of tradition, a fan of ritual. I like to do things I enjoy again and again. I watch movies over and over. I put songs on repeat. On Saturdays Alex and I get coffee and eat croissants. Then we grocery shop. If the green market is open, we see the cows. We did all of those things today. It was lovely.
Flowers from the market
Tradition says we get one chocolate and one turkey/cheddar croissant from the Medici. One sweet, one savory, both buttery, flaky and delicious. 
Medici coffee has been failing to meet expectations as of late, so we tried the joe down the road at Istria CafĂ©. The bean guru made Alex his specialty drink, a caramel macchiato-type brew “with a kick” that he calls the Chuck Norris. Alex said it was “very flavorful” but burned his tongue. Chuck Norris tastes like pain.
Chuck Norris
We stopped by the garden and—miracle!—look what happened to the parsley overnight! This evidence has been tampered with. I bought a little parsley at the green market. The dirt where we planted our parsley seeds is suspiciously dirty, and I’ve become impatient.
Old parsley
New parsley
The one pea sprout is still hanging around, but no others have reached the surface. I don’t think they are growing down there. Gardening is hard. Good thing we have been collecting pea sticks to help our worthless plants in the next stage of their life cycle.
Pea sticks I keep tripping over
In better news, the indoor cucumbers haven’t suffered any more losses, in fact they are starting to identify themselves as cucumber plants: this new grapefruit-spoon-shaped leaf is their name tag.
Pecan artichoke salad
I was feeling down about the garden, so we ate some sweet, freshly shelled, raw pecans and did a little of this:
Feeling much better. But still want to find one of these:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Peas out

Look, a sign of life! One glory-seeking sprout has risen from the depths of the earth!
I guess this is what happens when you give peas a chance. (Too much?)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mac truck lacks pluck

Well, you can add the Southern mac and cheese truck to my food truck repertoire—and then you can subtract it.

I don’t have anything terrible to say about the mac truck, it just wasn’t good enough. They offered four styles and I chose sundried tomato, white cheddar, and caramelized onions. The flavors were okay, but the textures were off. The sauce was creamy, without being particularly cheesy, the breadcrumb topping was more of a garnish than a crust, and the pasta was dreadfully overcooked and not particularly hot, either. In a word? Mushy. I got a real conveyor belt vibe from the dish as a whole.
I didn’t mind the high price ($9)—if I weren’t bringing the leftovers home for my boy blue, it could easily have stepped in for lunch tomorrow, as well. But why waste a second meal on something that doesn’t meet my standards? Guess I’m a snob for delicious.
Southern Mac Truck on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

The first harvest

Well. The lettuce isn’t dead. Yet. With the cucumber population putting the “perish” in perishable and the seasonal April snow from this morning, I was worried. The crop situation is looking grim, so we decided to harvest some outer leaves off the lettuce to revive our spirits. I used shears to trim the larger leaves, and hope the plants continue to grow and produce salad greens.
The mesclun was delightfully fresh and crisp, but it didn’t have the healing effect I was hoping for. It’s nice to be eating something from our own garden, but we didn’t even really grow the lettuce. BTW, still no sign of life from the dirt where the peas are supposedly growing. Le sigh.
I’m still worrying and wondering. Did we harvest the lettuce in a way that will allow it to grow back and produce more? Are the peas too deep? Why haven’t they reached the surface?  Is the parsley overwatered? What is going on down there? Are we eating enough whole grains?

Fine, one of these questions is not like the others. But at least it is one I can answer: No, we are not. And I can do something about that.
So I made a quinoa salad. Warm, al dente grains tossed with garlic-chive infused olive oil, toasted almonds, and cubes of bold feta.
And I made oatmeal cookies. The chewy, molasses-driven, cinnamon-spiced, packed with raisins kind.
Grains accomplished. Garden... Not so much.

Death comes to us all

We’ve had our first tragedy, a casualty among the cucumber community. One seedling in the nursery has died, both unexpectedly and inexplicably.  One day it was alive and vibrant, the next it was withered and lifeless. Such is the punishing cruelty of life.  
With snow falling this morning, I expect more disappointment awaits us at our afternoon plot visit. Let us hope the lettuce has hope.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Liquid Drano Wannabe Bullwinkle

Three of my favorite foods are champagne, nachos, and chocolate pudding.  Hub51  may not be a “foodie” destination (they serve sushi and tacos), but they do all three things on my list remarkably.
Imagine this: A juicebox-style straw beckons from a red can of bubbly—Sofia Blanc de Blanc—that shimmers like a ruby under the booth’s one pendant light. Van Morrison “Domino” is all but blaring through the bar’s speakers. It’s just past noon and in front of you sits an overflowing bowl of pulled chicken nachos, “chile-braised organic chicken, fresh tortilla chips, guacamole, roasted tomato salsa, white cheddar and Oaxaca cheeses, sour cream.” 
The roasted tomato salsa is spicy, sweet, and bold—lycopene at its finest.  White cheddar adds sharpness to creamy guacamole, and freshly fried tortilla chips are hot and crispy. The best part of this bowl-o-nachos? The second layer of toppings, hidden under the first chip stratum.  There are no unlucky bottom-dweller chips in this dish, no dry leftbehinds that make you long for the moments of melty cheese and chunks of chicken that are lost in the past, only alive in your memories. After the first layer of nachos, you hit the reset button and go again—if you can.
And then you order the s’mores pudding pie. Buttery graham cracker crust, rich chocolate pudding, and toasted marshmallows. I tell you no lie, my friends. It's a consciousness raiser.
In garden-development news, here are some shots of my growing plants.
Turns out I underestimated how many seeds would actually sprout and my multiple-seeds-per-hole technique is overpopulating my planters... We may need to get a cardboard box, go down to the supermarket, and sell the extras like kittens out of Junior’s trunk. 
Hub 51 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This is happening!

At the risk of angering Bill Pullman, I’m going to tell you that the last 24 hours have been really exciting. Yesterday we noticed some activity in the cucumber starters: the dirt was drying out and something was pushing it up. Today the thyme and tomatoes followed suit.  
Cucumber, yesterday
Seedlings! Sprouts! Miracles! We grew plants! Is it wrong to be surprised that this is working? My inner farmgirl is trying to play it cool, but I’m blowing up her spot with my unmasked amazement in nature. 
Cucumbers, today
Tomatoes on the rise
Thyme for spring
My enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that I was starving when I got home. I gathered all the possible ingredients for dinner from the fridge and pantry: day-away-from-wilting spring greens, half a cucumber, three lonely sprigs of basil, the last of the goat cheese, and five walnuts. Options were limited. And then I saw it, the deformed potato that had set up camp in our fridge and started to grow sprouts of its own. 
Potato salad
It sounds hard to believe, but this sad, sack-dwelling reject pulled the rest of our lackluster leftovers together in a delightfully filling salad. Sweet basil, fresh cucumber, and tangy mustard vinaigrette get a lift from rich potato croutons. Chopped small and browned in oil with salt and pepper, these starchy bites made a would-be light and disappointing salad into a hearty main. Potatoes are the best. Remind me to buy another one and forget about it in case of emergencies.
We walked over to our garden after dinner to water the lettuce and pea seeds (no change from the above-ground perspective) and met another garden neighbor. He was super nice and helpful (it turns out we may have gone overboard with tomatoes for such a small plot); he even gave us two varieties of chives to take home for the windowsill.  
Bottom line: Buy a potato. Or grow a garden. There are perks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Garden confidential

This may come as a shock to you—because I am normally so collected and smooth—but I am a nervous gardener.

Are the plants too close together? Are the holes deep enough? It’s too windy here! Will the lettuce drown? What if they don’t take to the new habitat? The soil is poisoned! What if it rains? Can they stay outside overnight? Can I catch a disease from the compost? Will you go check on the garden on your way to work and text me pictures so I know they are okay? Don’t touch your eyes!
But seriously, how many seeds go in each hole? And can you overwater? Would it have been better to plant in the morning? Should we have aligned the rows north-south instead of east-west?

And the big one: What if nothing grows?
It may not look like much yet, but I’m a garden mom now and responsible for the welfare of these plants. I want them to live happy healthy lives until I drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic and eat them.
For better or worse, the peas and parsley are in the ground. If we planted them correctly and if they can survive Chicago’s “spring,” we’ll be shelling peas in 70 days. Beloved patrons please note, my birthday is also in 70 days.  Let the countdown begin!