Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

When Life Gives You Turnips...

This weekend was another iron chef moment.

Here in Austin, my most prolific vegetable season is the winter. I plant in September or October when the heat breaks and we get our first good rain.

I have raised beds for the vegetables, each measuring about 4x6 feet. Within these boxes I mass plant; meaning I don't plant in rows, I just scatter the seeds over the entire bed. As the plants grow we eat what I thin out until the very last when I harvest the remaining crop. Late February or early March is when we eat in abundance, all trying to stay ahead of the voracious bugs, beetles and worms who emerge from their winter dormancy.

The winter garden usually has beds of carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, and kale. Other vegetables like garlic, swiss chard, artichokes, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, lettuce, arugula, or other greens may also make an appearance depending on how much time I have to dedicate to the planting, care, and weeding.

We've been eating well again this year (along with coworkers, neighbors and friends whom I've shared with,) and I thought I was doing a good job in keeping up with the harvest. Except yesterday I went out to do some weeding and noticed that the turnips had gotten away from me and were now fist-sized beasts. Worse, they were starting to get infested by Harlequin Bugs, who LOVE turnips. I needed to squish these guys into oblivion before they moved to the kale, plus harvest the turnips before the greens were completely shredded. One of the things I love about these vegetables is that you eat the whole plant - therefore, no bug was going to dine on MY dinner.

But what to do with all those turnips? Today's secret ingredient? I love a challenge.

The biggest turnips were turned into soup. Some of them had started to split and were getting a little woody on the inside, so a nice slow simmer was in order. I found this great recipe on Epicurious that completely fit the bill:  Turnip Soup with Turnip Greens. I roasted the greens in the oven until they were slightly charred for an extra smokey flavor for the dish.  That and a batch of southern corn bread made for several tasty meals. I will probably make a second batch next weekend and then freeze it. I'll use chicken or vegetable stock instead of milk and throw in some chopped rosemary instead of the winter savory I use as a thyme substitute. (It's too hot in the backyard for thyme, so I grow winter savory instead and am liking it much better anyway.)

While googling for recipes, I also found this link from Bon Appetit for 18 more turnip recipes. That shepherds pie is going to be on the menu this week too. I also roasted some of the smaller turnips, along with beets and broccoli rabe. I just spread them out on a baking sheet or dish, drizzle with oil, season with salt then bake at 425 degrees F for 40 minutes.  Excellent topping for rice or greens.

And I made refrigerator pickles. This is something my Mom does all the time when the cucumbers are in season. I've applied the technique to all sorts of vegetables. Sadly, I eat them all by myself since Ed is not a fan of vinegar. Wait, be honest, YEY I get to eat them all by myself and Ed can forage on his own.

The kohlrabi is starting to mature so I used this occasion to grab a couple of them, plus onions and carrots from the garden.  Here is my recipe:

In a glass or ceramic bowl mix the following:

1 onion (red if you have it, white if you want extra kick)
1 1/2 to 2 cups vinegar (apple cider with the mother or seasoned rice are my preferences)
1 tablespoon salt (I use pickling salt, but any good quality salt will do)
1 tablespoon pickling spices (optional,  I usually have some on hand but you don't need it)
1 tablespoon dill weed or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I've also substituted with fennel which adds that luscious anice flavor.)
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled, and shaved with vegetable peeler

Turnips, kohlrabi, and carrots, peeled (if needed) and sliced into bite-sized pieces, enough to make 2 cups total.

Mix the onion, vinegar, salt, pickling spice, dill weed, and ginger shavings in a non corrosive bowl.  Let sit while you slice the vegetables.  I like including carrots because it adds a bit of sweetness and color, plus they are usually ready for harvesting at the same time as the turnips and kohlrabi.  If the carrots aren't quite to size yet, I take the opportunity to thin them and use the smaller roots whole.

Add the vegetables to the vinegar mixture and stir.  No need to cover them with the liquid, but they should be mixed in to coat with the pickling solution.  Cover and let sit in the refrigerator at least two hours before eating.  Vegetables will keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks - although mine never last that long.  Since I'm growing the veggies, I'll keep adding to the bowl until the abundant crop harvest is conquered, adding more pickling liquid as needed.

Hope this gives you some ideas on how to consume your own harvest.  And let me know if you want some turnips!!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Valentine Flowers

No one will ever accuse my husband of being romantic.

Valentines Day at our house is the same as any other.  We will be married 27 years this May, so I doubt anything will ever change.

But wait, he says, I DID give you a Valentines gift that one year.  Yes, it was a nautical chart of the Puget Sound.  He pasted a doily on it and wrote "Happy Valentines Day."  Was it a clue that we were going to go on a romantic trip through the San Juan Islands?  No, he just liked it.  He bought another chart for the mouth of the Columbia River just for good measure.  To my husband, nothing could be more romantic than imagining himself sailing those waters.  Alone.

Earlier on in our marriage, I remarked that it would be nice to get flowers once in a while.  He was shocked!  Shocked!  Why, no ones grows more beautiful flowers than you!  I couldn't possibly bring home inferior florist flowers!  Foiled again.

I blame myself.  When we were dating he bought me a ladle for my kitchen.  I already had two ladles, a large one for soup and a smaller one for adding liquid to other dishes (like risotto.)  The one he gifted me was a regular size with a white enamel handle.  All my other tools are wooden or stainless steel, not a piece of enamel in sight.  However, he was having his kitchen remodeled and all the cabinets were going to be white.  In his mind that ladle was a full-out declaration of love.  Look honey, I'm buying you a gift that matches my kitchen!  That way when you move in it will look lovely in the utensil caddy on the counter.

This year he remarked that Valentines Day was on a Sunday and someone he knew asked what he was going to do for me.  He COULD see if he could get reservations somewhere, but he has classical guitar rehearsal. I sighed.

He has other nice traits I remind myself and look out the window onto my garden.

There, unabashed in the cold prairie wind and undamaged from the hail storm last night, are my roses glowing softly in the first light of morning.  Pink, yellow, peach, carmine, white, orange, red, the whole group of them are blooming - every single one.  And not just a blossom here or there, but a full-on display of petals that weigh down the canes they are suspended from.

Excuse me?  It's Valentines Day.  This is the time that we prune our dormant roses here in Austin so that we get that first flush of bloom in March or early April.  But not this year, my roses haven't STOPPED blooming since fall.  We've gotten an unusual amount of rain these past several months and all my plants are giddy with the excess.  And while we've had a few freezes, the brutal late January early February freeze we normally get has not arrived.
Even my 'Marilyn's Choice' Albutilon has been blooming like crazy - normally a tender perennial here in Austin. 

So, as a proper gardener, I tell myself that the pruning must be done, and I'll just wait for this round of blooms to finish.

Except that it's Valentines Day.  Maybe my husband was right.  How could any florist compete with my roses?  And since I need to prune, I think a full vase of flowers will be delivered to my table as a reward.  I must be honest to myself, there really isn't a greater love than seeing my hard work pay off in such a beautiful form.

Who says romance is dead?