Gardening

Beans – No Beans

pottery bowl filled with fresh green beans

I am in a harvesting war with some critter or multiples thereof.  One day I have succulent beans needing just a touch more sun-filled nutrients to go from too small to just right which then disappear, leaves and all, with only bare stems remaining.  For years we grew our beans vertically in a true square foot gardening technique but they always seemed to develop a late summer rust as our garden has just barely enough but not quite enough sun plus the added inconvenience of growing so tall so as to be out of my five-foot, five-inch reach.  Several years ago we reverted to bush beans and, while taking more room in our six – four foot by four foot raised bed squares, they have always produced.  And, this year too, we have produce it is just that something is beating me to our crisp haricots verts, despite the fence. 

Summer gardening versus neighborhood fauna – the war continues. We may have to revert to trellises.

Gardening

Pesto with thoughts of Genoa – no actually Madison

a large bunch of fresh garlic bulbs with roots and stems on a red metal background
Our garlic harvest – August 2017

As I prepped this morning’s basil harvest for the second batch of summer pesto, I smiled and remembered the first time I had this savory concoction.  It was summer 1977.  I was in library school and a friend who was in town for a library association meeting had offered to treat this poor grad student to dinner.  We met at Helen C. White Hall, wandered over to Memorial Union, spent time on the Terrace before strolling up one side of State Street and then back.  Reaching the small second floor storefront Italian restaurant where we had dinner required trudging up narrow wooden stairs.  (This was long before ADA required accessibility.  It was a restaurant Dad hated when I took him there not because of the food but because he worried about exits – or the lack thereof.  But that’s another story.)

My friend was quite excited with the chef’s pasta du jour which featured fresh pesto on tortellini.  I had no idea what pesto was but as I did not want to appear anything less than sophisticated, I ordered the same entrée.  I remember my surprise when I was served a dish far more green than pasta white; heavy on the garlic.  For this first sampling, it was a good there was a nice red wine accompanying our meal. 

Despite growing up with big vegetable gardens at my house and my grandparents, basil and garlic were simply not things we grew.  From my narrow culinary perspective at the time, basil and garlic were dried herbs from McCormick; used infrequently, mostly just for Aunt Thelma’s spaghetti sauce.  But now, basil graces pots just outside the back door for quick access and grows in the tomato squares as a companion plant.  While we do not have garlic growing this summer, we have harvested splendid crops in years past.  With a nod to food writer Beth Dooley and author of our well used The Northern Heartland Kitchen cookbook, we will fully enjoy this batch of savory almond basil pesto.  Bon appétit!

Gardening · Writing

Blueberries after a year & a month of blogging

First Picking – 2021

Inspired by Suleika Jaouad, I started Knit+ Librarian as a Covid survival technique early into our worldwide pandemic quarantine hoping to capture random thoughts and images.  Over the past year and a month, I never gave any thought to what might happen as topics cycled back through my life.  I knew the Knitting and Reading blog posts would stay fresh as there would always be a just-knit sweater or shawl to describe or a new favorite book to review.  But with today’s first picking of blueberries even while reveling in their dusty blue hues, I realized there may be some repetition in the Baking and Gardening categories whether I am describing the last rhubarb crisp of the summer or this season’s blueberries. 

There is a simple beauty in the natural cycles each following one after another, season by season which especially deserve our appreciation in this northern clime where we go from warm days of verdant greens to frigid, frosty whites and grays and back again.  And, I am certainly in good blogging company, as Christina Campbell on The Healthy Knitter shares monthly posts about each full moon and Solène Le Roux at Knit Pause leads meditative knitting retreats focused on nature.  As I celebrate the ebb and flow of the seasons in our garden sans any exotic varieties and filled with plants I can only describe by their common names without knowledge of scientific nomenclature, I will simply enjoy “playing in the dirt” and you may see a similar but never identical new post or photo.

Gardening

Nasturtiums

orange nasturtium blossoms and green leaves
Our 2013 Nasturtiums

Easy to grow, nasturtiums provide vibrant color all summer with the added treat of edible leaves and blossoms which bring culinary diversity to simple salads.  They have been a staple in our vegetable garden for years plus they are beneficial companion plants for our raised-bed tomatoes. 

This spring, I was overzealous and planted an entire seed package with a thought to experiment with drying leaves and blooms for winter flavorings.  But, alas, unlike the fertile yield of previous years, the 44 seeds produced only five plants which we are carefully tending with a hope to enjoy the peppery flavor by summer’s end.

Gardening

First Planting

The excitement over my first, post vaccination day trip to St. Paul in April and lunch out with a friend in a restaurant which followed strict (and therefore reassuring) COVID protocols, slipped into what can only be dubbed COVID malaise.  While our neighbors have been in their yard for weeks, adding raised beds and planting, I can only claim a minimalist effort having helped Richard turn over the six, 4×4 foot vegetable squares, sans seeds or seedlings.   While the chilly temps and night time frost advisories offered the cover of an excuse, I simply lacked my annual dose of springtime, get-in-the-dirt time enthusiasm.

But then, Michelle inspired me.  During last night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert, our former First Lady offered her heartfelt comments about coping with pandemic anxieties.  I took her words to heart: “… push beyond … just the doing gets you out of the funk.”  After stops at two green houses for healthy plants and an assortment of vegetable seeds, we spent the afternoon planting.  Today’s in the ground tally of various varieties includes: 

4 tomato plants and 3 basil plants in square foot garden
Tender tomato & basil plants
  • Cucumber – 6
  • Tomato – 5
  • Basil – 5
  • Pepper – 4
  • Zucchini – 2
  • Kale – 1

Tomorrow’s goal (assuming the rain holds off):  Potatoes, beets, lettuce, radishes, beans, nasturtiums, and a flavorful collection of potted herbs:  more basil, plus dill, leeks, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  Michelle was right – “just the doing” was the prescription I needed.

Gardening

Water – Splash and flowing

Our small Kutzky Park garden is actually several distinct patches.  Six, 4-foot square raised beds for vegetables, four fenced blueberry bushes that yielded 25 cups of succulent summer fruit that we greedily consumed only sharing two berries with our neighbor, a rain garden that replaced an old tarmac driveway and an assortment of annuals and perennials for cutting with a small solar fountain at the center.  It is not a hardship to sit on our screened porch, especially this pandemic summer and listen to the solar fountain gently splashing while often catching sight of a brilliant goldfinch perched on the fountain’s edge.

One of this summer’s home improvement projects was the refurbishing the rain garden.  Our initial attempt to direct roof runoff worked well but a decade of freezing and thawing resulted in too much water flowing into the storm drain.  Now, with new river rock spillways leading from downspouts to a catch basin, we once again capture the rainwater from the east side of our house and, coincidently, the west side our neighbor’s roof.  Just in time for this week’s cool temperatures and rainy days.  Autumn has arrived.

Baking · Gardening

Last of the season

The old wives’ tale declared rhubarb poison after the 4th of July although how a vegetable could or would negatively alter its chemical structure to coincide with a US holiday is a horticultural mystery.  In reality and referencing a much more reliable source, the University of Minnesota Agricultural Service, it is best to harvest this vegetable from early spring through the end of June allowing the remainder of the summer growing season to replenish the energy needed to winter over in our harsh northern clime.  So while Mom’s rhubarb patch is still tempting me with its verdant leaves, it is best left to rest.  Making this my last Rhubarb Crisp of the season. 

There are as many rhubarb crisp recipes as there are bakers.  This one is tried and true from Mom.  The combination of ingredients and ease makes it Richard’s and my favorite summer dessert especially with a dollop of freshly made Crème Fraîche. 

Always on the lookout for new rhubarb adventures, there have been summers when I have experimented with rhubarb’s versatility – drinking rhubarb daiquiris or grilling with rhubarb barbeque sauce.  May be it is Covid related but for this summer’s baking treats I focused entirely on old favorites:  breads, crisps, muffins, and scones.

While my trusted Joy of Cooking, © 1975, only provides seven recipes, Rhubarb Recipes by complied by Jeanne DeMars, © 1991, and Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, © 2012, as part of Our Northern Plate Series each offer hundreds of baking and cooking options.

Whether you have this wonderful plant growing in your yard or you purchase stalks at your local farmers’ market, explore all the delicious treats rhubarb offers but wait until next summer.