Heat Wave

Some may say it's crazy to take on a brand new, never-been-dug community garden plot the weekend before you move into the first home you've ever owned, and the first weekend of the year that the temperature hits 90 degrees. Crazy maybe, but we did it!

The plot in the picture above is the finished product. It's in a brand new community garden, McCormick Community Gardens. The cool thing about it is that just a year ago this was a highway on-ramp (notice the intersection of Hwy 151 and Aberg Avenue in the distance?). The city decided to close off highway access, and the community gardeners took over. On a whim, I asked if they had any spots left, and what do you know, they had two! I took the sunnier of the two, and the closest of all of them to the highway. If this isn't urban gardening, I don't know what is!

Here the view from our plot looking over the other plots, toward the dead end of McCormick Ave. There are 24 16'x26' plots all in a long skinny row - ours is at the very end. At the other end is a big pile of compost that the city brought for the gardens. The existing soil in the area is what the road crew filled in with - extremely poor, rocky, and full of clay. They planted grass and covered it with some straw-like cover, and also some biodegradable landscape cloth that looks like string. Planting our plot entailed lugging many wheelbarrows full of compost down the path, and mixing it with the incredibly hard rocky ground.

Did I mention it was 90 degrees and extremely humid this weekend?

I couldn't have done it without this man. We signed the paperwork to get the plot on Saturday afternoon, and Stanley, ever the over-achieving wonderful boyfriend that he is, started work on the digging just a few hours later.

I helped by bringing wheelbarrows with compost and marking how I wanted the beds to be.

It was 9pm when we finally left the plot on Saturday, and Stanley had dug up four nice big beds.

I came back on Sunday afternoon to finish lugging compost and to plant some seeds. All the wheelbarrows that belonged to the garden were being used, so instead I found a bunch of the straw stuff that the landscape crews had left and defined some paths. I scraped up all the grass by the roots before I layed the straw down, but I didn't worry about loosening the sod since I don't want anything to grow on the paths anyway. I also dug up a nice little circular bed in the middle, and formed hills in two of the beds that already had enough compost.

I came back Monday morning to finish. Six more loads of compost worked in, the final two beds formed, and seeds planted. There are two kinds of winter squash in the bed on the upper right, a French honeydew type melon and lemon cucumbers in the bottom right, two types of watermelon on the top left, and two types of muskmelon in the bottom left. I planted Giant Russian sunflowers in the middle and a small patch of okra in the bottom right bed near the path.

Whew! That was a lot of work. I went out at 7am on Monday. I was done by 9, and about as hot and sweaty as a person can be. there's something really nice about sweating so much, and there's nothing that feels as good as the cold shower I took afterward! If only I had had some of those watermelons to help cool me off.....

I chose plants that won't take a lot of upkeep since I'm also moving into my new house this spring, and I'll have plenty of other things to keep me busy, including the Main Street Garden:

Here are the potatoes on Friday afternoon before the hot weather hit.....

... and here they are on Monday morning. See the difference? They're growing by the day.

Since I knew that the hot weather was coming, I decided to plant as many of my seedlings as possible on Friday afternoon to spare them the shock of transplanting in extremely hot weather. Here they are - kind of sad, but alive and vigorous. I wasn't too happy with my seed starting this year - I think it was too cold for them in the basement, plus I didn't use the highest quality potting soil.

I put the tomatoes in the bed behind the potatoes, next to my sugar snap peas. There are three varieties here: Candy Stripe, Black Cherry, and Ox Heart.

As you can see, they're not too big, but they're compact and not gangly at all. I have no doubt that they'll do well. They love the hot weather, and they're already noticeably bigger just a few days after planting.

In this sad bed of greens I planted two Rosa Bianca eggplant starts that I bought and one of the purple tomatillos that I started by seed.

Here's the other bed of greens. I'll be harvesting this for salad this week! The dill that perennially comes up in this bed is coming back. I'll leave some for pickles, but I'll add some baby dill to the salad as well. Mmmmm..... the perfect thing for hot weather.

Little broccolis plugging along. This picture was taken on Friday afternoon, and these guys too are now noticeably bigger.

These are the only seedlings that I haven't put in yet. They're Corno di Toro peppers. Sad I know (especially considering the seeds were planted back in March), but they're alive, and I'm confident that they'll grow and fruit. I probably won't use all of them, just the three or four mostvigorous.

Here's a shot of Ben and Erica's garden on Friday afternoon.....

.... and here it is on Monday morning after Mom, Dave, and I spent some time cleaning it up and planting.

This bed is planted in carrots, beets, rutabaga, and bush beans.

Cucumbers in the bed in the back, summer squash in the foreground. With the hot weather, the seeds shouldn't have any trouble at all germinating.

Almost done, but first I have to show you how the fruit trees at the Main Street garden are doing.....

Baby peaches! As you can see, the leaves are having some issues - bugs maybe? The fruit are forming well however. We'll see what happens.

The cherry tree is loaded with little green fruits. We'll be eating cherry pie before you know it!

I don't know if I've mentioned this Concord grape arbor yet. It didn't produce anything last year, but this year.....

It's loaded with little baby grape clusters. It's going to be a good season!

I can't end without sharing this picture of my happy chickens enjoying some frozen peas. I cleaned out the freezer and found some old bags that Dave had been using as ice packs. It was the perfect icy chicken treat on a hot hot day!

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Michael Pollan - The Food Movement, Rising

Lots of garden pictures to post later today, but I also want to share this link to Michael Pollan's newest piece in the New York Review of Books -- The Food Movement, Rising. I know it's long, but you really should read it.

I find that I get too wrapped up with my job, gardens, and cooking to participate as fully as I might like in the political side of food, but it's always interesting to hear what's going on in the broader world. I do wish that he had included some mention of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and others like them. That's a fast growing portion of the food movement (just look at the attention that the recent raw milk bill in Wisconsin has gotten) that doesn't seem to grab the attention from Pollan and others like him that I think it deserves.

Here's how it ends.......

"For where do all politics begin if not in the high chair?—at that fateful moment when mother, or father, raises a spoonful of food to the lips of the baby who clamps shut her mouth, shakes her head no, and for the very first time in life awakens to and asserts her sovereign power."

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I Love Wisconsin

My good friend Steph was in town from Door County this weekend. An outing was in order for Monday, so she, Stanley, and I went to Old World Wisconsin to check out what they had going in mid-May.

Old World Wisconsin simulates life in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. It's made up of real historical houses from around the state that have been picked up and moved to the site, about halfway between Madison and Milwaukee. Employees dress up in period clothing and do the tasks that people would have been doing. There's also some killer gardens and livestock.... I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and I'd always wanted to go back, so we did.

Before I get to that, I have some pictures from our own old world cookout the night before. Steph and I have been friends since we were little kids, so my family was all anxious to see her too. We hosted a good old fashioned cookout at my house......

I finally made local mayonnaise from my chicken's eggs and local sunflower oil. So good and creamy, and so easy! The oil gave it a strong sunflower flavor that went well with the dishes we put it in. I'll include a recipe for the mayo at the end of the post.

The treat of the evening was these morels that Steph brought from Door County. As you can see, she's had excellent mushroom hunting luck this spring.

Wow. We sauteed the mushrooms in butter. What flavor!

She made deviled eggs from my chicken's fresh eggs, homemade mayo, salt, pepper, paprika, and a little local watercress for garnish. I make a lot of deviled eggs these days, I don't think I could ever get sick of them!

My potato salad also utilized the mayo, along with sorrel and some green garlic. Those storage potatoes from the fall are almost at the end of their life, but they still taste good! I'll add a recipe for this potato salad at the end as well. The sorrel added an excellent flavor.

Brats! These are from Willow Creek Farm. Nothing says Wisconsin like a brat cookout. We ate them with local raw sauerkraut and mustard.

OK, now on to Old World Wisconsin. I have a lot of pictures to share, so I'll spare you excessive commentary. Thanks to Steph to taking most of the pictures.

Rhubarb was everywhere! One of the houses had rhubarb drying for winter use. Others were using it for pies and sauces. Unfortunately the public can't eat any of the food that's made here (damn health code!), so we had to content ourselves with looking.

Looking up through the chimney at one of the homes. The Germans who lived here originally smoked meat up there.

Everything is made in old wood fired ovens - not an easy task. It's neat to see them up and running.

The path through the garden to the outhouse - this one was a three seater! I love the path lined with strawberries. The wooden barrel was used to crate water out into the garden for irrigation. Makes you really appreciate the invention of the garden hose!

A happy snout.

Provider of eggs.

Lovage. I saw it growing in several of the gardens and was puzzled by it until I had a chance to ask one of the employees. It's a bit like celery or parsley. I think I might have to plant some....

I didn't see any asparagus in any of the gardens. When I asked one woman, she said it was because the early Wisconsinites didn't grow it. I asked someone else, and she said no, they did have it, it just wasn't planted in Old World Wisconsin. Upon further research, I think that they did have asparagus (it's a really old vegetable, and it certainly grows well in Wisconsin). I sure would have grown it if I was as dependant on local food as these folks were.

A primitive stove.

I want some of these crocks!

Back to the garden..... they were trellising bush peas up these sticks. I'd love to see them when they're grown!

A gorgeous garden. Sort of like a raised bed layout, except the beds aren't raised. Most of it was not yet planted, but there was a square of sorrel, a ton of asparagus, lovage, thyme, oregano, and sage. The plant flowering in the background is a dye plant.

Happy cows. These guys are used to pull a plow - the tips of their horns were capped with a gold colored metal. Take that California cows!

A nifty and newfangled butter churn.

The old fashioned butter churn.

This contraption was used to press the water out of the butter. I want one!

All Wisconsin Mayonnaise

1 Egg
2 Egg Yolks
2 Cups Sunflower Oil
Apple Cider Vinegar

Puree the egg and yolks in a food processor until they're quite thick. Season with a few teaspoons of vinegar and a dash of salt. Turn the processor back on. Very slowly, in a steam of droplets, add 1 cup of oil. Turn off processor and check for seasoning. Turn the processor back on and very slowly add the remaining oil. check again for seasoning, and serve. Best used fresh, but this mayo will keep 4-5 days in the fridge.

Spring Potato Salad
Red potatoes
Mayo (recipe above)
1 Big bunch Sorrel, chopped (use stems and leaves)
3-4 stalks Green Garlic, chopped (everything but the very top of the greens)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cube potatoes and boil them until just tender (don't overcook). Drain and run cold water over them to cool. Add enough mayo to dress the salad, then add the vegetables. Season to taste.

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Salad Season is Here Again!

A short post today to celebrate the fact that easy salads are back in my life. Since I work on Saturday mornings it's tough for me to make it to the downtown farmer's market. Until the East Side Market starts I'm dependent on what the Co-op can get, plus what I can grow myself. My little patch of salad greens is not quite ready to cut, so this week I was delighted to find local salad mix from Harmony Valley Farm back in stock at the Co-op. I'm betting it came out of a hoop house. How beautiful!

Before I tell you about the salad I made tonight, I have to show off these beautiful mugs. They are an early housewarming present from Stanley, my wonderful boyfriend. He knows a local potter, and he knows my love for chickens, so he commissioned these two mugs - one is a hen and one is rooster. Beautiful. Thank you darling! I'm sure they will make many appearances on this blog.

OK, back to salad....

My dinner tonight started with a beautiful piece of grass-fed steak from Black Earth and four spears of luscious local asparagus.

I cut the steak into strips and seared in using high heat in my cast iron skillet.

When the steak was cooked medium rare, I turned the heat off and threw in the asparagus. The case iron keeps its heat for a while, and the residual warmth was just enough to lightly cook the asparagus. I like it almost raw, more warmed than cooked really.

Meanwhile, I hard-boiled two of my chicken's eggs, peeled them, and quartered them. Just look at those yolks!

A big bowl of salad greens.....

A quick vinaigrette of local sunflower oil, apple cider vinegar (Unfortunately not local - I still haven't figured out why none of the local orchards make vinegar.....), salt, and fresh pepper.

Toss it all together, and dinner is served. Though it's been chilly this week, there's no doubt that the season of heavy meat and potato dishes is over, and salad season is back. All local except for the cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Delicious!

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