Looking for Something?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Game of Squash

Step right up, folks! Come guess the weight of this squash. Hey, you there -- you look like you want to play, come pick a number. What have you got to lose? Step right up!

Wow us with your squash estimation skills by sending us a comment. We'll let you know later who's closest! (And no, you won't risk winning said squash as a prize -- can you imagine the shipping charges?! Besides, I have big plans for this beauty.)

Yes, banana squashes can be big, but this one from my garden borders on freak show proportions. (For reference, it's sitting atop a standard-size patio chair.)

Squashes are broken down into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squashes have delicate skins and include crookneck and zucchini. Winter squashes store well at or below room temperature for several weeks, in part thanks to their hard rind. Banana, butternut, hubbard and acorn are a few of these varieities.

Winter squashes lend themselves to breads, pies, pasta fillings, soups and much more. Try them in your favorite pumpkin recipe in place of it, their more publicized cousin. After being cut into pieces and seeds removed, winter squash flesh can be baked, boiled or even microwaved until tender. Small squashes may also be cooked whole in a slow cooker. For baked goods, drain cooked flesh in a colander for about an hour to remove extra moisture.

Here's one of my family's favorite uses for squash, a soup that has slowly helped me convert my husband into a squash fan. The quantities below are just guidelines; I don't go by a set recipe. But that's the beauty of soup -- you can adapt it to your own tastes with great results.

Squash-haters' special request bisque

2 lbs. winter squash (butternut is especially good)
1 large onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
1-2 stalks celery
2 quarts good quality chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup cream (can also use evaporated milk)
Favorite herbs (sage or rosemary work well)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped ham (optional)

Heat oven to 350. Prepare squash by removing seeds and stringy fibers. Place pieces cut side up in pan, uncovered, and put in oven. (It's OK if oven hasn't reached full temperature yet.)

Alternately, you can put prepared pieces in a covered dish in the microwave and cook for 10-20 minutes. This is quicker than oven method, but I think the roasted flavor the oven imparts is worth it if you have the time.

While squash is baking, mince garlic and chop onion and celery. Add vegetables, bay leaf and chicken stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and let vegetables cook until extremely soft.

Check squash in oven for tenderness after about 40 minutes. When done, remove skins from flesh. (If it's too hot to handle, let cool while you do the next step.)

Remove bay leaf from stock mixture and discard. Ladle softened vegetables into blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Do so in batches if needed.) Puree squash with small amount of stock.

Combine everything back into your pot. Slowly stir in cream and warm over low heat. Adjust seasonings and add ham. Serves 8.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Eat food, Not Too Much, Mostly Vegetables....for a week.

Well, I just finished "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan and it was excellent. I whole heartedly recommend it to everyone. It's a short read but jammed full of information that is likely to change to way you see a lot of things. Part of the book talks about "how to eat" - this is not a diet or a list of forbidden foods. Instead it recommends the three things listed in the title of this post:

Eat Food - this means no food products: i.e. imitation foods or foods that your ancestors wouldn't recognize as food. That also means if the ingrediant list is long and full of things you can't pronounce - it's probably not food but a food product. It's a lot more detailed than that but you get the idea...

Not too much - this means we enjoy our food and don't gorge ourselves on it. We eat more like the French who eat smaller portions of higher quality food.

Mostly vegetables - this means that we eat way too much meat in the country because it has become so cheap. Our ancestors ate a lot less just because it wasn't as available - as do people in other countries. We needs to eat more vegetables with meat being the side dish.

I have oversimplified the book's message by a million - there are health reasons to eat this way but just as importantly environmental, political, and social reasons. In my opinion this book needs to be read hand in hand with The Omnivore's Dilemma which I am still reading - it's a lot longer. Anyhow, my point being that I want to try it out starting this coming Sunday.

I wanted a little time to prepare so I could have it in my mind what I could make. You'd be surprised by how much isn't true food anymore - at least partly. Like today I wanted a tuna sandwich but when I looked at the can saw that it was partly vegetable broth - meaning soy flakes! I ate my tuna still but next week I won't be able to unless I buy the raw tuna and cook it myself. Anyhow...I'll let you know how it goes...I'm curious what my week will be like and I'm betting the food will taste a lot better - as long as I do my job right!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Late Bedtimes

All over the neighborhood gardens are tucked in for the winter. Summer’s bedding is ripped out, dirt is fluffed up, here and there are cushiony pillows of leaves to compost.

I’ve witnessed many such plots as I’ve tooled around town, seen these sleepy little yards with nice square corners. Wouldn’t you know it, though – my garden is the one up past curfew. And it’s a night owl, I tell you, still churning out produce.

For areas with distinct seasons, conventional wisdom suggests that when fall comes, and leaves and temperatures drop, it’s time to yank everything out of the garden. No questions asked. During the last spring, after all, many recreational gardeners may have planted everything at the same time, too – just because that’s how they’ve always done it. Plant at once, rip out at once. It almost makes sense.

Yet this view doesn’t take into account that different plants grow best under different conditions. Spinach, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, peas, chard and cabbage, for instance, are labeled as cool-season crops. Generally we take this to mean we can plant them earlier in spring, before established last frost dates. They like things on the cold side.

Quick question: How does fall compare to summer? It’s cooler, of course. Given the chance, these veggies can thrive beyond summer; fall marks a return to the climate they love. You can keep such plants mulched during the heat of the summer, or can sow seeds around July or August for an entirely new crop in autumn.
Garden crops still can flourish, even though it's late enough in the season that trees are stripped of leaves.

Fall: It’s the new spring. Or at least summer’s encore.

I just couldn’t stand to pull out a plant that was still pretty and green when everything else leaned to gray and decay. (Plus, I was too lazy – ahem – busy.) That’s why I hadn’t touched my upper garden bed yet. I nearly nipped my bonus harvest in the bud.

Instead, it was practically the opposite of “ya snooze, ya lose.” I was delighted that my broccoli plants offered several more side shoots, and I can tell the Swiss chard is also growing more stems. I plan to keep my chard plants well mulched throughout the winter just to see what happens.

Even some raspberries form a fall crop, as I discovered by chance. Naturally I was delayed in pruning. Lucky for me, though! I would have chopped away the bearers of deep red jewels. It has already frozen here on several nights, driving away the insects that kept me from fully enjoying earlier berries.

Consider having your cool-season crops in a separate bed(room!) from the rest of your garden. That way you can prepare one plot in early spring and let it lie undisturbed through fall when you want to pull out the rest of your garden.


Friday, November 7, 2008

My friend Dee sent me this postcard from China, and I just love it. She said that the farmers get small areas from the government for farming for 15 years. They make the most of what they are given and it is hard work. Isn't it just beautiful? Thanks for sending it Dee!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Our best day ever...

About five months ago I welcomed my third son into the family and since then my life has been a whirlwind. Maybe you've noticed I have only posted like one time since then? Thanks Marisa for taking up soo much slack! And then, a couple months ago, when my new baby was three months old, I found out that once again I was expecting. Crazy stuff, eh? So needless to say, I've been tired.

This past weekend I was really ready for a break so we headed up north to Grandma & Grandpa's house. I love their place. They are probably my original inspiration for backyard farming. They have just under an acre but have turned it into an Idaho eden. At least in my mind. This weekend we were able to wander through their huge garden and pick and eat to our heart's content. We dug out huge red tomatoes from under their huge vines - tomatoes as sweet as strawberries and bursting with flavor in your mouth. We moved onto their yellow raspberries and I can assure you that only a handful made it into the bucket to take inside - most went quickly into our mouths. Their sweet flavor was better than any candy. Later both of my boys got to wander through the back and pick out their very own pumpkin. My seven year old son declared after the afternoon of filling our bellies with the bountiful fall harvest, "This is my best day ever!" And I have to admit, my day was just as good.

Gardens have healing properties beyond their nutritional values and herb teas. That day, just wandering down the wide rows of their backyard farm was rejuvenating. Pondering over the wonder of these treasures swept away my fatigue and replaced it with gratitude. The experience of tasting a tomato off the vine, still warm by the sun is like none other. It is life at it's richest and fullest. And it's moments like those that help us recognize the emptiness of television and other media. Those experiences help us distinguish between the deep and often complex flavors of reality and the manufactured saccharin sweet so readily available around us. And perhaps that may be the most important thing we harvest from our backyard farms.