Small Beginings

After what seems like the longest winter in history, spring is finally here. What a relief, and what a joy! It seems that our Wisconsin climate has become prone to wild fluctuations - one year it's so hot and dry that nothing will grow, the next it's too cold and wet.... let's just hope that after this late start we can pull together a decent growing season.

I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Flight Behavior. She is a delightful writer, and one of my favorites. This book tackles the subject of global climate change in a unique way that I've found very insightful and also very scary. What's in store for us in the years to come? Supporting a local food economy and gaining the skills to grow and preserve my family's food seem more important than ever. 

Here's a small step toward that goal. Newly planted seed beds! Most of the early spring planting is done, and I'm beginning to think the seeds might even come up.

A row of Spinach and a row of Kale (Lacinato and Red Russian). This weekend I'll add a row of lettuce and hopefully in a few weeks we'll have baby greens to make salad. I've also seeded radishes, peas, and cilantro. Nothing has broken ground, but hopefully this weekend we'll see some small beginnings.

We started broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and parsley indoors in March. Most of it is under lights in the basement, waiting for summer weather. The broccoli is hardening off in the patio and will be planted this weekend.

Have I mentioned that we got new chickens? The old flock went to a new home in order to lessen my load of responsibilities when the baby came. These girls are a year old, already laying. They are two Light Sussex, a Sussex/Rhode Island Red cross, and a Blue Marans. Pretty girls, and so nice to have eggs again!

 Strawberries just beginning to make themselves known. We have yet to get a decent crop from this planting - here's hoping this year is our year. How hungry I am for sun warmed, sweet, soft, fresh picked berries!

and then there's this little guy - a seed that was planted over a year ago, and growing at an unbelievable rate. How I'll be able to handle my gardening tasks this summer with him tagging along is still a mystery.

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Blank Canvas

The snow is finally gone! After what seems to be the longest winter in my life, spring is finally here. A wonderful drenching rain came this morning to wash away some of the winter filth, and then around noon the sun came out and the temperature rose to a whopping 62 degrees. Heaven! The baby, the dog and I took a long walk and I swear the grass was greener when we got home than it was when we left.

The garden is muddy, but other than that it's ready to go. Oh, the possibilities! We have seeds started in the basement, and it's just about time to get some the cool weather veggies in the ground. We'll have this home garden, plus our plot at the McCormick Community Gardens, and possibly another community garden on Atwood. I've been on the waiting list for a few years now and I have a feeling this year will be our year.

Three gardens, a full time job, and a 6 month old baby. Can she do it? Time will tell. This time of year anything seems possible.
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Spinach Salad with Blood Oranges, Strawberries, and Pepitos

Spring has been exceptionally slow in coming this year. The daylight has increased, but the temperatures have still been colder than normal, and there's still snow cover in a lot of areas... Frustrating to say the least, especially for a new mother ready to show her baby the wonders of nature! At least the local spinach is here, though! This is grown in hoop-houses by my friends at Westridge Organic Produce, and wow is it good! So flavorful and alive - it makes you realize just how un-fresh many of our "fresh" vegetables are all winter.

There was an Easter potluck planned at my Aunt's house last Sunday, so I decided to counteract some of the candy, cupcakes, and other sweets with a springtime spinach salad.

Yes, I know that strawberry season is a long way off. The California season is starting up, but these beauts are from farther parts than that even: Mexico. I have nothing against Mexican produce, organic strawberries go so very well with spinach, and these are really nice right now, so I went for it. Really, a lot of the Mexican produce production happens almost as near to us as California, so why discriminate? 

Pepitos, also known by their more boring name: pumpkin seeds. I was debating putting bacon in this salad. I didn't, but I compromised by toasting these in the bacon grease left in the pan from our Easter breakfast bacon. Delish. I'll have to remember that trick next Halloween! I bought these raw and unsalted and added salt to the pan as they were toasting. Thanks to my friend Max for the pumpkin seed idea - they worked out great!

The last ingredient was a bunch of these beautiful blood oranges. The longer I've known blood oranges, the more I've grown to love them. These are not anything like the safe, sweet, predictable navels. Blood oranges have a burst of tart, fresh, flavor that can knock your socks off - not to mention the beauty of their amazing color. I just love them. They are past peak season now, but as one of the late maturing citrus fruits, they still belong in my spring salad.

The finished product. I dressed it with a simple balsamic (olive oil, blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, basil, black pepper, and salt). Yum. 

Here's a simple recipe. No quantities - in this kind of salad, everything should be to taste.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Juice of a few Blood Oranges
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Dried Basil (or fresh is you have it!)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Combine everything in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well just before using.

Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Bacon Grease from a Pastured Hog (or Olive Oil or any other oil you like)
Fresh Organic Baby Spinach
Organic Blood Oranges, segmented and cut into 1" pieces plus one orange cut into slices for garnish
Organic Strawberries, cut into quarters or 1/8ths plus a few cut into halves for garnish
Blood Orange Balsamic Dressing 

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over medium heat with the bacon grease or oil. Stir often, until the seeds are nicely browned. Add salt to taste. Wait until just before serving and then mix everything together. Toss well, then garnish the top with slices of blood orange and strawberry halves.

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