Tag Archives: gardening

Irene soup August 27, 2011

6 Sep

Bean, sausage, kale, carrot, shimeji soup

Between being frightened by the news, and worrying about my vegetable garden being destroyed by Hurricane Irene – the eve of the arrival of the storm was spent with a lot of hand-wringing, pacing and worrying.

My older daughter helped me empty the contents of our covered patio deck into a lovely M.C. Escher -inspired assembly of stubborn patio chairs, precariously balanced over bicycles, a Radio Flyer, and a hodge podge of gardening items methodically stacked inside my ex-car garage-currently-Papa’s-woodworking-man-cave. 

We then ran outside to the vegetable garden, and tried to pick as many string beans/yard-long beans and tomatoes before nightfall.  My little one spun dizzy circles in the yard, her arms out-stretched and her sundress puffing into little parasol shapes as she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stauw (Star, with Brooklyn accent, thanks to Lala at daycare).”  My older daughter grabbed handfuls of beans and cherry tomatoes next to me.

I then hustled everyone back into the house once the rain started falling.

To calm myself, I decided I’ll cook.  Let’s call it, “Irene Soup.”

Here are the ingredients:

1 container, Trader Joe’s Hearty vegetable stock

1 lbs dried Cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed

2 large handfuls of string beans pulled from the garden, de-stringed and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 large onions, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 carrots, peeled, and cut into 1/8 inch pieces

4 celery stalks, rinsed, and cut into 1/8 inch pieces

Handful of kale from our garden – probably about 8 medium leaves – julienned across the “rib”

Handful cherry tomatoes from our garden

1 packet Hokuto Bunashimeji mushrooms – rinsed, and the bottom “stalk” part trimmed.  The mushrooms were pulled into small clusters.

2 sweet Italian sausages, grilled, and cut into bite-sized pieces.  These were left-over from an earlier dinner.

1 Tbs chopped pancetta

1 Tsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of thyme and oregano leaves, pulled off stems

In the bottom of the pressure cooker, set over medium heat, I drizzled the olive oil, and added the pancetta to brown.  I then added the onion, carrots and celery until fragrant.  I then added the remaining vegetables (kale, beans, tomato and mushrooms) until they softened a little, (kale and beans will get brighter green in color) and then poured in the stock. 

I then added the dried beans, and brought everything to a strong simmer, stirring occasionally.

I then added the lid, adjusting the heat (medium) until there was a steady, but not hysterical hissing of steam, and set the stove timer for 45 minutes.

Once the timer rang, I let the pot cool until the pressure lock released the lid, and checked for done-ness.  I wasn’t convinced after my original check that the bean soup was done, so I started the pressure cooker again for another 30 minutes.  I added the sliced sausage pieces at this point to the soup.

Once the second round of cooking was done, I stirred and garnished the soup with the herbs from my garden.

The resulting soup was velvety, soft, creamy soup, punctuated by the occasional carrot, bean or mushroom.  The tomato, kale, celery and potato were “melted” into smaller pieces (or shreds) and I knew this would be a hit with the girls.

Thankfully, we did not lose power, and we did not suffer any property damage during the storm.



Taking a deep breath – it’s August already… Brandywines, San Marzanos and more

5 Aug

“You know, you haven’t been as diligent with your blog these days…”

An honest comment from my father last night as we skyped – the girls eating dinner, while my parents (Jiji and Baba) took turns talking to them.  I certainly need to get back into my routine of blogging – but it’s difficult these days,  trying to soak in the long, summer days without the restrictions of school schedules, wake-ups and the dreaded daylight’s savings…  No, not a mikka bouzu, but… simply summer laziness?

Last night’s dinner included:

Freshly picked edamame – boiled for 4 minutes until they turn brilliant green, then sprinkled with sea salt.

Seared flank steak (TJ’s conventional, but I believe non-antibiotic), marinated with a minced garlic-(conventional) ginger-soy sauce-rice vinegar-Trader Joe’s 21 spice rub, and seared on the grill.

Freshly picked green beans – string beans and yardlong beans, blanched, and cut into inch long pieces, seasoned with katsuobushi  and soy sauce.

Handful of freshly picked yellow grape tomatoes

The garden is yielding an amazing amount of vegetables, starting with tomatoes ranging from the yellow grape tomatoes, San Marzano Roma tomatoes, gorgeous blush-hued Brandywine tomatoes, and Beefsteak tomatoes.  This is the first year I was successful with the Brandywines, and I was struck by how beautiful they are.  The tomatoes are ridged – some almost look knotted – but they all seem to glow a breath-taking rose as they ripen on the vine.  I thought my eyes were failing on me the first time I picked one that was ripe – I actually rubbed my eyes, thinking something was wrong.  How could a tomato be pink?  Oh, my dear reader – they can be pink, and they delicately and deliciously transition from the light, sea green to a bashful pink.  And the taste!  They are juicy and bursting with flavor, and I couldn’t help but eat a whole tomato (the size of my hand!), cut into wedges with salt in one sitting – barely breathing between the pieces because I felt I’d miss something by pausing, and hastily wiping away the juice running down my chin.  It tasted of summer sunshine in each bite.

The beans are also growing quickly – there are several types – Kentucky Blue (your typical string beans), flat green beans (we received a bean packet from a local fair that we planted), two types of yard-long beans (one is red, the other green), and of course, edamame

The cucumbers seemed to have failed this year due to the glitch with my sprinkler system – I’ve got rogue summer yellow squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash that regenerated out of the compost pile – and have monopolized any area outside of the raised beds, virtually dominating the sprinkler head directed at the cucumber trellis.  We did get a good harvest early on – but not certain I’ll have any more this summer.

Shiso is growing under the poles, shaded by bean vines reaching upwards.  The artichoke is also growing, I cut one artichoke last night – I just need to steam it for the girls to “dip-dip” in a soy sauce vinaigrette. 

Potatoes are also growing – another compost re-generator, and I’m curious to see what they look like when we dig them up.

In the evenings, when I can manage to squeeze into the garden with the girls, I watch them go from the garden to the garden hose to rinse them before eating their pickings – the little one declaring she wants edamame – although I suspect every green bean she picks is considered an edamame in her book.  The older one carefully picks tomatoes, yellow ones, orange ones, red ones, and runs to the garden hose, rinsing them off, these summer jewels, and popping them in her mouth.

Summer appears to be picking up momentum as we lazily float down these wonderfully carefree times – but school is right around the corner, and my bento battle (at least for Saturdays) will start in two weeks.

As for photos of my garden – apologies for the lack of them – I was too busy picking, eating and chasing Kiki, my chocolate lab, out of the garden before I realized I left my camera inside…


PS.  Today’s NY Times has a wonderful article by Mark Bittman – one of my favorite columnists regarding “The Proper Way to treat Heirlooms.”  A timely article!

Tomatoes and Beans in various colors, shapes and sizes

28 Jul

Picking right now…

Yellow grape tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes


With the exception of the carrots, kohlrabi and the olive hummus – all the veggies are from our garden!!  Counter-clockwise:  Yellow and red tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, kohlrabi, carrots, zucchini, green beans and yard-long beans from our garden!

Blanching edamame – the girls love to snack on these as I prepare dinner.

fresh from the garden!

Summer time June wrap up

30 Jun

June is winding down, and things have slowed down a little bit.  I didn’t realize how much time and energy the bento packing took – so it’s nice to have a little time in the evenings and mornings for myself… and to stop sounding like a drill sergeant trying to get the girls ready and out the door so I can get to my job in time.

Summer evenings are wonderful – the girls and I do our chores when we get home, and when time allows, we head into our backyard – the girls heading to the swing set, while I bee-line to my vegetable garden.

We have been picking lettuce, broccoli rabe and kale – and have been picking very young sweet peas which the girls have been eating by the handful.  The peas never are able to grow past the “snow pea” stage – but the ones that escape early picking by eager little hands have sweet, juicy, fresh peas that burst with color and flavor.

EDAMAME!!!” the little one exclaims – ignoring her older sister’s explanation, “It’s NOT edamameit’s peas!” 

She pulls open the pea pods, and picks away at the little pearl-sized globes of goodness.

I’ve always planted bush beans – so this year, we decided to plant pole beans. 

I now understand how “Jack and the Beanstalk” came about.  My beans have outgrown their poles, and wave themselves in the air until they grab hold of anything.  A co-worker suggested I tie string from the top of the poles to the top of my super trellis – and the beans have found this arrangement work… so far.

So far, we’ve thwarted the rabbits – and the soybeans have managed to continue growing. 

The one mistake I made this summer, was my careful cultivation and nourishing of very healthy looking weeds amongst the eggplant.  Had I not looked up to revel at how resilient eggplant seemed to be in n0-man’s land during my dog’s walk, I probably would have continued to lovingly weed around the actual weeds.

We’ll add that to my list of “not” to-do lists!

Thursday summer bento

3 Jun

Thursday’s lunch included:
Grilled chicken drumstick, seasoned with soy sauce, fresh lemon juice, pepper and grated ginger – grilled over medium low heat

Onigiri with an okaka (katsuobushi, or shaved bonito flakes, seasoned and slightly moistened with soy sauce) filling wrapped in nori

Roasted beets in heart shapes

Boiled quail eggs (conventional)

My daughter’s school held a science fair on Thursday afternoon, which I attended with her.  Her face lit up when she saw me waiting outside her classroom for her – and she came running and gave me a hug. 

She enjoyed an afternoon full of a variety of activities – including creating a terranium, creating a bouncy-ball with household ingredients, creating sand-art, planting beans, and her most favorite of all – watching the creation of homemade (organic!) ice cream using liquid nitrogen.  I was her science project porter – as I toted her completed projects around the grounds.  I loved watching her savor each spoonful of the ice cream – and tipping up her ice cream cup to make sure she got every last drop.

Even more exciting was the flock of little baby quails in a tank – a bit interesting, since her lunch had boiled quail eggs….

We picked up the little one from daycare together, and we then played outside in the yard.  Actually – I tended to my vegetable garden – or rather, hurriedly uprooted all the rogue pumpkin plants that I had been carefully growing – thinking they were cucumber plants regenerating themselves on their own.

Thankfully my neighbor pointed out my error before I awoke to the Great Pumpkin sitting in the middle of my vegetable garden.

The older one came into the garden, and asked for fresh lettuce to munch on.  She happily rinsed them off with the garden hose, and danced around the yard, waving them like fans as she took delicate bites out of the leaves.

The little one followed her older sister – but she balled the leaves up in her hands, and spun dizzy circles, while our dog, Kiki, hopped around both of them.

Homestretch for the month of May

26 May

My busy season at work appeared to have sped up the flow of time, dramatically, and before I realized, we are now at the end of May.

May was the month of onigiri experimentation, and although I enjoy the convenience and zen of making the rice balls, I know I need to continue experimenting to keep my daughter’s lunches fun and interesting.

Today’s lunch included:

Boiled egg – in a bear shape

Mini-onigiri with dried seaweed, sesame seeds and salmon furikake (store-bought, conventional seasoning for rice)

Mini-frank flowers (conventional) in a blanched broccoli floret forest.  I cut the small sausages in half, and scored the cut surfaces.  I then dropped them into boiling water for a few minutes until cooked through, and the pieces curled outward

Grape tomatoes


My daughter’s school is closed tomorrow, so she is off to daycare with her younger sister.  I hope to get out of work early, so I can pick them up early, and play outside with them.

The vegetables in our garden are starting to pick up some steam, and we recently harvested the season’s first lettuce leaves.  This year, we planted broccoli rabe, kale, lettuce, pole beans, soybeans, three types of tomatoes, sweet peas, two types of Japanese cucumbers, zucchini, scallions, and artichoke.  It is our third year growing vegetables, and we are starting to learn from our past mistakes.

Our top 10 mistakes are listed below – and I chuckle as I recall each one:

#1.  There is no need to plant more than ONE grape or cherry tomato plant

#2.  Do not plant more than one zucchini plant in a row, especially in the sunny spot

#3.  Do not plant and stake bush beans next to the trellis

#4.  Watermelon and eggplant do not grow well in a pot

#5.  Determined rabbits will squeeze through fencing to devour soybean sprouts – protect your garden with a fence + chicken wire, or you will be left with stubby stems throughout the garden

#6.  Do not prune zucchini leaves in the hopes you can remove powdery mildew, especially if it is on every leaf

#7.  Guide and monitor your children when they are helping to weed the garden – otherwise they may pull up entire rows of broccoli rabe and sweet pea sprouts

#8.  Tomato plants are extremely resilient.  Therefore, your neighbor may find a renegade tomato patch in their yard, most likely sprouted from the tomatoes from YOUR garden

#9.  Slugs/bees/worms/ants (and any other insect) are not frightened of you – as much as you may be frightened, disgusted, or fearful of their slimy bodies munching through the tender leaves of your young vegetables.  Screaming, jumping or wringing hands do not make them go away.

#10.  If planting from seed, mark your rows.  I’m currently trying to figure out if the row of eggplant I thought I planted actually sprouted, or the weeds are taking advantage of the fact I can’t discern which is what.

Hope to have some dishes/recipes based on our garden soon.

P.S. I must add to my commentary regarding the Bento box song, Baba originally suggested to Jiji to search for the lyrics on-line.  Thank you, both Jiji AND Baba.