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Cucumber Craziness: recipes link

I love cucumbers.  That’s why I planted all 4 of the little plants in my plug pack in our garden, rather than giving some away–in the past, I’ve usually lost one or to to bugs or rot or too much sun or something. 

However, you may remember that, at spring planting time, I looked up what kinds of plants naturally repel insects, and I put a marigold border and several fennel plants in my vegetable garden.  Either I was lucky or it really worked, because without any chemical insect repellents I haven’t seen a single nasty thing in my squash, cukes, or canteloupe plants. (I also haven’t seen any canteloupes on my canteloupe plants, but that’s another story.)

Which is a long-winded way to explain why I have way more cucumbers this year than I know what to do with.

I did find one fabulous recipes link, where there are tons of great cucumber recipes.  I would be all over these, and I hope the link will be useful to some people, but I am operating with a handicap.  No, it’s nothing as dramatic or valid as a food intolerance, it’s a spousal thing.  My husband likes cucumbers, but he doesn’t like a) creamy things (so much for tzatziki), vinegary things (so no pickles), or cold soup (too bad, gazpacho).  Sigh.  I mean, of course there’s nothing stopping me from making these things for myself, but there’s no way I’d be able to eat enough of any of it to compensate for our cucumber plenitude.

So I’m looking for other things.  There are only so many nights when we can have peeled cucumber sticks for dinner, you know?

(By the way…we had a problem early on with this yucky bitter edge to our sliced cucumbers.  I looked it up–God bless the internet–and it turns out the bitterness is the result of a compound called cucurbitacin which is located closer to the stems of the plant.  It’s suggested that if you cut off an inch or so at the stem end and peel the cuke under running water or even just rinse it after peeling a lot of this bitterness can be alleviated.  So far it’s worked for us.)

This cucumber salsa recipe (found here) looks very promising:

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To market to market…

Today I checked out the next farmers market on my list, the one in Burr Ridge. Like everything in Burr Ridge, it was very elegant, very classy, and very expensive; only two booths in the whole thing actually had produce. (The baking nuns were there, though…I got a lovely loaf of wheat bread from them…)

I also visited The Farm, a produce stand run by a large farm just a few miles away in Plainfield–in general, their food was much more reasonably priced, and they are only a few minutes away from our house, so that will probably be our primary place for the balance of the summer. Their sweet corn is in, and it looks lovely…

Then there was the local Dominicks, where I needed to stop to get some toothpaste…and where I saw apples advertised proudly as being “locally grown”–until one examined them more closely and discovered that they were actually grown in Washington.  State.  In what twisted brain is the Pacific Northwest “local” to Chicago?

Humph.

–J

How To Shop Your Local Farmers Market

Last Saturday morning I visited the Downers Grove Farmers Market.  I wish I could compare it to other markets I’ve been to, but I blush to admit that I had actually never gone shopping at a local farmers market before—I, who have a username like “greenmom,” had never been to a farmers market.  Sort of embarrassing.  So I figured I’d better head out there to one.

 (Not by way of excuse but explanation—my problem isn’t the going, it’s the timing; I never seem to remember on Thursday morning that it’s actually Thursday morning, know what I mean? I’ll go, “Oh right, I wanted to hit the Burr Ridge farmers market Thursday of this week, what day is it? Oh crud, it’s Friday already, now I have to wait till next week…”  I have the same problem remembering to take the garbage out to the curb for pickup, which is why I’m glad my husband takes care of that aspect of home life.)

It was a good thing, this farmer’s market. I was surprised at how much non-fruit-or-veggie stuff was there for sale—seemed like everything from gourmet dog biscuits to made on the spot fresh donuts to breads and cheeses to locally made soaps and cosmetics were there.  We got a bag of mini-donuts that were literally moments out of the hot oil. (Yeah, oil. I know. What can I say, I cracked. And they were delicious.)

Some things I learned:

  1. Shop around.  If the first produce-selling stall has green peppers and lettuce and sweet cherries, odds are good that the next 4 will have variations on the same fruits and vegetables.
  2. Not everything is necessarily grown locally.  If a farm is selling beautiful huge rosy beefsteak tomatoes when you know perfectly well the ones on your bush at home are still little green globes about 2cm in diameter, ask where they grew their tomatoes.  (On the other hand, going to the farmers market and buying tomatoes grown in Arkansas is a good bit less carbon-footprint-y than going to the grocery store and buying tomatoes grown in Chile, know what I mean?) I found some that were grown in southern Illinois, no doubt hothouse, but very reasonable and very good.
  3. Go with a budget.  Better still, go with exactly as much cash as you are willing to spend that day.  And have some idea of what you want to get before leaving the house—don’t be inflexible, but also don’t go thinking “wow, I’ll just buy what looks good!” It all looks good.
  4. The next time you go, start off to the left first, since last time you ran out of your budgeted cash well before you got to the last third of the stalls.
  5. Free samples.
  6. Bring your own produce bags, or be prepared to schlep home a whole bunch of those annoying plastic grocery bags.  Unfortunately, your string bags won’t help you here, because produce is a little messier than stuff you get at the store. (My experience with making produce bags is in a subsequent post.)  Do a Google search for “reusable produce bag” and you’ll get places like www.reusablebags.com, www.ecobags.com, www.3bbags.com, and many more. Bear in mind—for farmers market shopping almost any mesh or muslin type bag will be fine.  If you want something to use in a grocery store, it needs to be fairly transparent so that the scanners can read it. This topic will get its own post eventually…

To find your own local market, if you don’t know already where they are, check the web– www.localharvest.org has a pretty good search engine, as do http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/ and  www.farmersmarketonline.com –for that last one, you need to scroll down to find all the markets; the list that comes up first has only featured ones, I think; it also appears to have more info and be more up to date than the localharvest.org site.  What’s kind of cool is that since the days rotate around with a different market in a different place every day of the week, if we suburbanites are lucky we may be able to go any day we want and even hit a lot of the same vendors who cycle around the different markets all week.

Happy munching! (The donuts were worth every fat-laden calorie, too…)

–J

Landscaping Rant, part the First

Okay, fine, I get it. It was their house, they could landscape it any way they wanted. We bought the house. No reason, seeing this lovely carpet of evil cypress mulch around everything, that we should have just assumed there was, oh, say, dirt under it.

Apparently the house’s previous owners employed Landscaping With Gravel in their past life, and then just covered up the gravel beds with mulch at selling time.  And under the gravel is this horrible landscaping cloth, the stuff designed to prevent weeds from coming through.  In some places the gravel is thicker than others, but it’s plenty thick everywhere.  This is pissing me off.  On the one hand, yes, there are very few weeds.  On the other, trying to plant anything is HELL. 

The right thing to do would probably be to hire a landscaper (or take a week off work and do it ourselves) to completely rip all the old stuff out, give us nice planting beds and start from scratch.  But we being we, it’s not gonna happen.  We bought the plants, we knew where we wanted them to go, we tried to dig the holes to plant them, and we discovered what lay beneath the lovely but anti-earth mulch (see saveourcypress.org/ ) was anti-plant-life mess, so naturally we just hacked through what we didn’t like and planted our plants there anyway, with a bunch of manure and soil and hopefully healthy otherness.  This is probably not a landscaper’s best suggestion, and we may live to regret it. 

The yarrow, being yarrow, is thriving like crazy.  Something keeps chewing on my echinacea, so it’s not growing at the rate I’d like to see.  And I ordered some basil, carpet thyme, marsh mallow, and St. John’s Wort from Richters ( richtersherbs.com –they are awesome!), and the basil and SJW seem to be doing okay so far.  The mallow and thyme aren’t planted yet.

We also discovered that as part of last year’s landscaping efforts, some lovely peonies and dwarf lilacs had been planted around the property, which has been a nice discovery.  But the gravel thing is driving me nuts.  I’ll probably just perennial the hell out of the front yard, punching out most of the landscaping cloth as I go, and give the whole area to things that laugh at barriers.

In back, where the veggies are growing–the peppers  and zukes look good, but one of the tomatoes looks sort of stunted, the canteloupes are dying, and the rest is sort of mediocre.  As much amendment as we tilled into this soil, it’s still probably too dense and silty to support really fast-growing life, and we don’t want to put nasty chemicals in there to grow our veggies, because then we’d be eating the chemicals…

Sigh…the bucolic dream of happy lovely gardening sweetness is so not happening, except for the lettuce…

More later. New ugly discoveries about the backyard are making my husband curse, so I should probably get out there.
–J

Days when it’s worth it

Okay, some days I think I’m being an idiot and wondering what the hell I’m up to with this whole footprint pseudo-green-suburban-mama thing, feeling very self-consciously chi-chi and precious like I’m trying to be something I’m not.

And then today, when I had 2 or 3 minutes to make lunch before running in for a noon staff meeting (which doesn’t actually start until 12:30, I now discover, which is why I have time to blog), I am able with incredible ease and efficiency to do the following:
1. get a piece of whole wheat naan, the stuff from Trader Joe’s we subsist on instead of regular bread, since it takes much longer to mold and is palatable to our kids,
2. place on half of it a few slices of lunchmeat (okay, it was roast beef, which is the most EVIL un-green meat one can consume, requiring immense resources to produce, but that’s a rant for another day and we haven’t eliminated beef entirely from our diets yet because my husband is of the Beef It’s What’s For Dinner mindset despite the fact that we’ve had beef for dinner maybe a total of, oh, a dozen times in the past 7 years of marriage, not counting when he stops at Scatchell’s and buys Italian Beef sandwiches on the way home from his folks…)
3. on the other half, spread some of the yogurt cheese I made a couple of weeks ago, still perfectly good and fresh. (I don’t do mayo; too fatty and the jarred stuff is too processed.  Yogurt or yogurt cheese gives the creaminess and tang without the fat content.)
4. grab the kitchen shears and head out to the patio, where I snip off 4 small lettuce leaves and a sprig of fresh tarragon, all of which I give a quick rinse and dry-pat to
5. put the lettuce on the meat side, quickly use the shears to chop-trim the tarragon over the yogurt cheese.
6. put the halves together and start munching

And realized it was quicker to cut and rinse the herb and lettuce than it would have been to open the tarragon jar and/or get a thing of lettuce out of the fridge.  And this is just May, less than 2 weeks after everything’s planted–it’ll grow and grow, and there’ll be more all spring and summer.  And if I can keep the tarragon from flowering, it’ll just keep bushing out and I can dry the herb for the winter, since I use it all the time…

This was an AMAZING sandwich.  Truly yummy.  Could only have been better if I’d cut the tarragon into the yogurt cheese several days ago and let it sit and steep (which I might to tonight with some of it; need to eat that yogurt cheese before it goes off!).  And if I had veggies, I’d’ve skipped the meat all together and just done tomato and zuke slices, maybe the yogurt cheese on one side and hummus on the other or something.  But it was GOOD.

Good fresh food, quick and easy, cheap (aside from initial startup costs, which admittedly this first year in a new home are considerable), gourmet-ish even, that I made/grew myself, and from which I didn’t generate any more stupid plastic containers. 

A good day.
–J

Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise

The peas are germinating.

They are incredibly cute. I didn’t know peas could be so cute.

The basil I planted in a pot a week ago is not germinating. I’m wondering what I did wrong.

peas,

J

p.s. the subject line is the title of a particularly delightful children’s book my kids both loved. It encourages small children to play with their food and hurl their peas out the kitchen window.  It was a gift from their grandparents, with whom, believe it or not, we are still speaking.

Garden off and running…

Greengrade for the 2-day period:
Bad: bought gogurt for the kids’ special snack, ate off disposable plates and out of disposable bottle at lunch
Good: brought the drink bottle back home to recycle, since the place I got it from doesn’t. And planted LOTS of veggies!

I think it’s almost all in place now.

This morning I planted a row of lettuce plants along the fairly shady side of my house, so hopefully they won’t get completely shredded in the summer heat.  It’s sort of weird landscaping, I guess, but I know myself well enough to know that if I have to put on shoes and walk out to the garden in back in order to get salad, I won’t eat salad.  This way, I can wander out onto the patio barefoot and grab a handful of leaves, and there you go.

And the backyard veggie bed is nearly full. (Still worried about the distance factor–reference previous paragraph!–but it’s what we’ve got.) I planted snap peas along one side, which I’ll train up a cage thing, then my 2 tomatoes and 3 peppers, then 3 cukes and 2 zukes.  At the other end, on a whim, I put in a couple of cantelope plants–never tried growing them before, but I thought, what the hell?

I also planted sweet fennel in and around the squash and cukes and melons, because it is supposed to be abhorrent to the nasty little worms that get into your squash and cukes and are able to winter over so you can pretty much never plant squash in that spot again.  And I’m planting marigolds all around the bed, because they are also supposed to keep bugs away.  I got a whole flat of nice “french vanilla” marigolds–they don’t have that sort of mustardy color I dislike about the general species, and they are sort of scattered around the bed.  I like it.

I need to research other kinds of “companion gardening,” other plants that grow symbiotically well with each other…

Ow. Pain Bad.

Greengrade for today (so far):

good:
–planted 3 echinacea and 2 yarrow in the front of the house, as well as 3 rescued lilies from church. (They always flood the place with hothouse lilies at Easter, and then as soon as they stop blooming they put them out in the hall for anyone who wants to take them. I’ve seldom gotten those lilies to do much, it’s like they are too stressed out from their one Easter’s glory to do anything else, like the kid who’s super-popular in high school but never amounts to anything later in life…hopefully one of these is a closet nerd…)
–fed the kids a very simple dinner. not entirely local but all good and healthy.  Dessert was homemade yogurt with honey and cinnamon on top. (see lady-jem.livejournal.com/68060.html#cutid1 , my lj entry on how to make homemade yogurt. Surprisingly easy.)
–felt VERY virtuous when I saw the rest of the takeout Chinese in the fridge (I had some for lunch today too) and realized I really didn’t want serious heavy food and instead ate some goat cheese on crackers, orange juice my mom brought and forgot to take with her (so the buying-non-local-tiny-container negative points are hers and not mine), and a bowl of yogurt myself.  I know, eating healthy doesn’t necessarily count as “green,” but being mindful and paying attention and choosing the simple over the complex-processed is a good thing, as I see it.
–ate a banana for “brunch” rather than stopping at McD’s or Dunkin on the way to work this morning and getting something awful

bad: (not including the usual crap I always do, like generating too much garbage, driving more than I need to, etc.)
–put some yard waste trash into the same bag as trash trash rather than separating.  Hopefully I don’t lose too many points here because it was really not much at all…

neutral (good cancels out bad):
–hubby is outside using a gas rototiller to render at least slightly organic and growable the raised bed in our backyard, which is basically a big block of clay.  It’s horrible.  We’ve been trying to work it by hand but we just can’t do it, so we broke down and he’s now in 2 hours doing what would otherwise take us weeks or more likely never get done.  He’s mixing an appalling amount of manure and sand into it to hopefully give us something that veggies will grow in.  The gas part is bad, the growing our own veggies will (hopefully) be good.  If this bed doesn’t pan out in the long run, we’ll hire landscapers or something, or make a higher bed and fill it with our own dirt, because this is insane.

I also hurt my back putting in the lilies.  It’s appalling to me how much clay weighs–a big shovelful lifted Not Quite The Right Way was enough to do me in. Fortunately that was the last lily, and then I was done, but I would have liked to help Al schlep the gajillion bags of amendments back to the bed. (Okay, I didn’t really want to, but I of course would have.  Now–not a chance. The husband points he’s racking up today will take forever to pay back.)

I hope to hell this works. I want veggies. It would suck to have bought a nice house with a nice yard only to discover we can’t grow anything in it.

Today we went to visit The Growing Place in Naperville–a really awesome nursery with scads and scads of plants.  That’s where we found the pussy willow and orange mint before.  Unfortunately, they seem to specialize in carefully bred hybrids and such, pretty ornamental things, and they don’t have Plain Old Anything. No white yarrow, no St. John’s Wort.  We did get some red-leaf lettuce, a peony, and 3 small echinacea.  All but the lettuce are in the ground–that raised bed, ya know? although I’m trying to find a home for the lettuce that’s closer to the kitchen door, so I’ll be able to just sort of step outside (like with my herbs) and pick a salad.  We’ll see.

Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Ow. I’m not 25 any more. I’m not 35 either, for that matter, although this would have done my back in then too.

Ow. If I had some St. John’s Wort oil I’d mix it with helicrysum EO and rub it all over my back.  I don’t. Ow.

Ow.
–J