Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spring Really Is Coming

In spite of the record cold over the last week, Spring really is coming. Here we are at the last week in February and it is time to get the slow growing garden plants going. Peppers are the big thing for me since around here I target the last week of April to get the peppers and tomatoes in the ground. Pepper seeds planted this week will, with luck, be ready to go into the garden when the soil temperatures warm. Slow to germinate and slow to get going you really need them started in the next few days.

My shallots and leeks are just peeking through the soil. I started them a couple of weeks ago and they have been in the greenhouse keeping nice and warm with a grow mat underneath. They don't mind cool but need some warmth to germinate.

I won't start tomatoes for another couple of weeks as they germinate quickly and grow much faster. If I start them too early they will be too leggy before the ground is warm enough. If the ground is too cold the tomato plants will just sit there and do nothing until the ground warms.

Time to think about companion plants for the garden as well. The right plants in the garden will go a long way in helping you with pests. They also have the added bonus of bringing some color.
You can't beat Marigolds as companions with just about any garden plant. They repel beetles, nematodes, and even some animal pests. I plant them everywhere I have a square foot of space. They typically stay small and compact and they also attract bees and butterflies. Zinnas are good too but they can get pretty tall.

Other good companion plant can act as trap plants, luring insects to themselves instead of your precious vegetables. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.

Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes — praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders — that munch on insect pests. I always have plenty of dill, basil and parsley planted in the garden. Besides their value as pest prevention they are a must for cooking. The parsley will even overwinter in many parts of the country.

Don't forget about what I call "quickie veges": Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Your Basic Tomato Soup

It's cold and there are snow flurries. I'm feeling it in my bones and I need some comfort. Not many things make me happier than a nice bowl of soup and there are few soups better than a plain old tomato soup. Nothing fancy...just tomatoes, onions and broth. That's what's coming down for dinner tonight along with some homemade sourdough with toasted Le Gruyere.


2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups low-salt chicken broth ( I prefer Swanson)
1 quart of home canned plum tomatoes or 1 28-oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes, puréed (include the juice) try to find San Marzano tomatoes from Italy as they are as close as you'll find to home canned.
1-1/2 tsp. sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp of dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a nonreactive 5- to 6-quart pan, heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onion  and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the flour to the onion and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. This will get the raw taste out of the flour.

Add the broth, tomatoes, sugar, thyme, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture to make sure that the flour is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprig. If you like it "chunky" its ready to go. If you like it smooth then use an immersion blender or  purée in two or three batches in a blender or food processor. If you used a blender or processor then return the soup to the pot and adjust the salt and pepper. Reheat if necessary.

Croutons, goat cheese, or parmesan  all make great garnishes. There is also nothing wrong with sprinkling a few Fritos on top either.

No need to mention grilled cheese sandwiches.

Coltrane on the recorder

I can't even fathom how long it must have taken to get this right.

Maybe Steve Bates can tell us.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day.

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day. The ancients have celebrated the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox since forever. It notes the first signs of spring and a celebration of the ancient belief in the transformation of the Goddess from the old Crone of Winter into the Maiden of Spring. Later the Christians took the holiday as Candlemas and celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. It is the day candles are purified for the church. It is also Brigid's Day. Brigid is the Goddess of poetry, healing, smithcraft, and midwifery and is celebrated with candles as well. Whatever your flavor enjoy the day. As the old saying goes.....

If Candlemas is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year;
If Candlemas brings snow and rain, old winter shall not come again.