Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day Cooking

In addition to gardening, I spent some time during the holiday weekend to prepare a fun meal! We made ribs, collard greens, salad, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. Sunday was the first day of strawberries at the Dupont Circle farmer's market and also my first day taking the risk and buying some rhubarb.

I looked in How to Cook Everything by Bittman to get some ideas about the pie, but then decided to go online. Since I only wanted to use what I had on hand, I finally found a simple recipe that didn't call for cornstarch or vanilla (I didn't have either of these available). I found and used it as my inspiration.

I started with the following:
  • 2 9” pie cursts (I purchased them frozen from Whole Foods, but next time would prefer to make my own)
  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut in half
  • 4 cups rhubarb, washed and cut in one inch pieces
  • 1 cup brown sugar (maybe a bit more)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 egg mixed with 2 tbl water

Here is what I did:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Clean and cut the fruit, mixing in large bowl.
  3. Mix sugar and flour in small bowl.
  4. Add sugar and flour mixture to fruit and stir to mix.
  5. Let the mixture of fruit and sugar sit for around 15 minutes.
  6. Pour the filling into one of the pie crusts.
  7. Place second pie crust on top of the pie carefully.
  8. Brush with egg mixture.
  9. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees.
  11. Lower heat to 325 and bake for an additional 40 minutes.
  12. Let cool and enjoy!

The pie turned out wonderfully, as well as the rest of the dinner. It was a perfect way to start off the summer.

Memorial Day Weekend Gardening

Over the holiday weekend, I was given the keys to our container garden paradise! I was so excited to be trusted with the responsibility of watering and re-arranging the plants. I went over to water on Thursday and then had some time on Sat. to head over to see if I could free up some of the lawn chairs and plant the new seedlings.

I began with watering the existing plants and then starting filling up an additional four containers with soil. I then planted all of the arugula, spinach and lettuce (seen left). I planted them about two inches apart because I think we will be harvesting them as babies using the "cut and come again" method. I propped up the containers on a giant plastic bin- which itself could make a great home for some plants. In addition to these long containers, I planted some radishes in a mid-sided round container and placed it with some of the others on a lawn chair.

Then, I looked around. Was there any way to free up the lawn chairs? I saw that there was a flimsy shelf alongside the house. I wondered, could this possibly hold some of our plants?
I decided to give it a try. I placed two large containers in front to help prop the shelves up and then placed two plants on it. I also wondered if there would be enough sun in this location in the yard and if the plants would block the sun from one another. Only time will tell.
It was so much fun to be playing in the yard and the plants looked happy. If the shelving works out, some more of the plants can be moved from the lawn chairs. That would free up some additional space for sitting and relaxing.... or for more containers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

While it does not grow in our container garden, I thought I'd share some exciting news: I made yogurt at home yesterday!

This process has taken me a year. It began with French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. I really enjoyed this book and after reading it, I quickly began making my own bread using Mireille's recipes. I also made an attempt at yogurt. But, it was a disaster. After all the waiting, it was nothing more than smelly, soupy-looking milk. I was very disappointed and vowed to try again. But I waited, and waited. I was too scared to do it.

About a month ago, I was over at my friend's house and he told me to go look into his fridge. There, I saw the yogurt that he had made. I was jealous. Very jealous.

So, he offered to help me try again. And after a year, I was finally able to do it! I'm not sure what went wrong the first time, the method we used was very similar to the French Lady's. My friend thinks I may have jumped the gun and added the yogurt while the milk was still too hot. Possible, very possible.

Here is what we used:
  1. 1 quart milk
  2. 1/4 cup dry milk
  3. 3 tbs plain yogurt
  4. Thermometer
  5. Jar
  6. Towels
Here is what we did:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200.
  2. Place one quart milk, room temperature, into a pot on medium heat and add 1/4 cup dry milk.
  3. Continue stirring milk as it heats to 180 degrees.
  4. Once at 180 degrees, remove milk from heat and let cool to 115 degrees.
  5. Shut off oven and keep closed, this is going to be where a lot of the magic happens.
  6. Once cooled, add some of the milk to a bowl (1/2 cup to 1 cup will do) and then mix in the 2-3 tbs of yogurt (we used three).
  7. Pour this mixture back into the rest of the milk and mix.
  8. Pour entire mixture into jar.
  9. Wrap jar with towels to insulate and put somewhere warm, in this case our pre-heated oven.
  10. Let sit for 8 hours without peaking!
  11. YOGURT. Enjoy and don't forget to leave 3 tbs at the end to make the next batch.

It felt so good to made yogurt at home, I am posting it to Cheeseslave's Real Food Wednesday, celebrating healthy, real food.

Tomato Plants and First Harvest

The tomato plants are growing! We purchased some stakes to support the plant when it gets big enough. After doing a bit of research, it looks like we planted too many tomato plants per container. We should really only have ONE plant per container. So, next step is to take away some of the plants-- either killing them off or re-transplanting them.

Then, when our tomato plants are about 2 feet tall we will put the tomato stakes into the containers. This will hopefully train our plants to grow upwards instead of falling and sprawling all over the place.

Unfortunately, the cukes are not doing as well as the tomatoes. So, I may be in favor of removing the cukes for the time-being and replacing them with some of the cooler-weather seedlings I have growing in my apartment (particularly the spinach and arugula). We will also be re-arranging much of the lettuce and herbs to make room for some new plants.

In other great news, we had our first small harvest yesterday of cilantro, watercress, and lettuce. The small harvest brought up an important question: what is the best way to harvest lettuce without killing it! I liked Katherine's method of trimming away some of the bigger leaves. I also found a short video about how to harvest lettuce. The video suggests waiting until the lettuce is fully grown and then cutting off the entire head of lettuce.

However, we can harvest baby lettuce as well by cutting the leaves when they're about 3 to 6 inches tall. This should should be around 28 to 45 days after planting. Instructions I've found on Earthbound Farms' website says to use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the leaves about 3/4 inch from the soil surface. The great news is that if we fertilize the plants well after the first harvest, the plant should grow back again for a second harvest (known as “cut and come again”). I think this may be our preferred method.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations...

... of urban gardening.

The challenges of urban gardening are many and varied. A few examples from recent gardening experiences:

Challenge #1. DIRT.

Walking home from work the other day, I found myself lamenting to my roommate about the difficulties of obtaining enough soil to sustain a backyard container garden. The local hardware store sells bags that hold no more than a few cups of fertilizer-laden soil for nearly $20 a piece, and paying that much for a resource that - as my roommate so aptly pointed out - literally lines the streets, feels a lot like highway robbery. Even when the proprietors of said hardware stores have convinced you that nowhere else in the District is such soil any cheaper, it's nearly impossible to get the darn bags home. Soil, it turns out, is not light.


Crossing city lines and maneuvering the wilds of the suburbs proves worthwhile when it comes to dirt. In order to maximize the trip (and make sure that you don't have to make it again for a long, long time), buying in bulk is recommended. Or so I found when I made the journey to the Depot recently, and loaded down my boyfriend's car with what must have been 200lbs of dirt.

Challenge #2. SPACE.

With only a small patio that happens to be completely covered in cement, finding containers for our little slice of garden heaven was a must. Once again, our creativity was tested as it seemed absurd to think of paying money for something that- when you really sit down to notice- is all around. Anything that can contain soil and allow for some draining of excess water will do, really.


The solution to the problem of space: find containers, and find a lot of them. I'm pretty sure my roommates are less than thankful for the sudden proliferation of plastic gardening vessels around the patio, but it's the only way! And while we did our best to get creative (recycling used colanders to be used as hanging baskets - clever, right?), it seems that the easiest route to take was purchasing big 5-gallon paint buckets, drilling a few drainage holes, and putting them to work.

Challenge #3. TIME.

Now this one probably isn't limited to the urban gardener alone. At some point or another during the growing season, I feel pretty safe in assuming that every gardener wishes for one extra hour during the day, for a little more weeding, or planting, or pruning. As an urban gardener with a full-time distraction from 9-5, five days a week, I feel the pressure of "there aren't enough hours in the day" pretty much every day.


Who said you have to garden in daylight?! As you can tell by the pictures in this post, I have taken to gardening by the light of the moon - and failing a clear lunar night, the quiet ambiance of my back porch light. While my plants may prefer the atmosphere created by a more natural source of UV rays, I've got to work with what I've got. Right?

With some determination, soil, and containers... all is possible.

Michael Pollan in Bethesda

Last Friday Michael Pollan came to town and spoke at the Bethesda Roundhouse Theater to a packed and reverent audience. The Professor in him came out; he was engaging, optimistic and current—summarizing his book, his analysis of the rampant nutritionism in American culture, and the industry reaction to the growing movement of conscientious eating, which he humbly claimed not to be spearheading. He even mentioned this hilarious/disheartening video from the Daily Show of the night before. So hip!
I had the sudden urge to go see him at Office Hours and ask him some carefully-crafted questions that would reveal a fierce passion and intellect, causing him to take me under his wing as his new protégé and successor.
But I digress.

As the paperback tour for a book that has been out for a year now, Pollan has surely given the same speech dozens of times, but he spoke eloquently and happily on the need for local/seasonal eating, chemical-free foods, whole foods, and slow food consumption (as if I wasn't already regretting inhaling that Chipotle burrito before the lecture…). The premise of this particular book, In Defense of Food, was a careful consideration the nutrient-centric perspective that pervades our health culture, and an offering of some simple tips like "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" and "Don't eat anything that doesn't eventually rot."

After the lecture my companions and I noted with interest that his introducer had attributed two English degrees to Pollan, and professorship of journalism, not agriculture or food studies or environmental studies. He was, at heart, a writer. A good writer, with a passion for food politics. He fulfilled a particular niche in between science and story-telling: comprehensive data and analysis in an anecdotal form digestible to the average eater. His views were not radical, but logical in view of his research and experiences.

The louder and stronger the ethical, healthy flank of the new food movement becomes, the farther the spectrum will move, the more mainstream the movement will become. Michelle Obama is surely helping a little, but what are we doing to help her? Shopping at farmers’ markets, re-embracing our kitchens, volunteering at local kitchens that serve healthy meals, and, of course, experimenting in our own windowsills and backyards.

I like to think that our little garden is a step in that direction.

Salad Table

Urban Garden Casual brought this great idea to my attention: Salad Tables! Take a look at the instructions HERE.

Another interesting fact sheet available from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of MD can be found here.

Basically, a salad table is another great idea about how to container garden with minimal space and minimal soil. I hope to be able to try out this project soon.

Stay tuned for garden updates soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Growing and growing

According to Katherine, the plants at her house are looking fantastic! We've got sturdy cilantro, lettuce, and basil- and the cucumber plants are dying to get out of their small containers and into some bigger ones. We also planted a watercress plant, which looks very happy.

We have a prospect of another location, which would be very exciting. Also, the chard, spinach, and lettuce seedlings in my office look great.

Looking forward to learning and planting more...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


After nearly a week of rain, the sun is starting to poke out from behind the clouds. I'm not sure how long it will last because rain is still predicted for the remainder of the week and into the weekend. While I have been cursing the rain and staying out home to avoid it, our plants have bounced back from the 90 degree weather and are happy in their new homes. I will update with pictures after they have some additional growth (which will hopefully be soon).

While we wait for our lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, and friends to grow, I have started some additional seeds at home:

The radishes are growing strong and the chard seedling is purple! Very exciting. It is going to be a bit of a challenge to figure out where to plant these new seedlings, but we will work it out.

Happy to be back to blogging! Also, I had a great experience at Common Good City Farm last Sat. I learned about their farm and mission, and even got to help spread earth and mulch. It was a great time and the rain held off for a few hours!