Sow: green sauce

Happy July 4th and happy post-Canada Day! It’s the time for celebration! Fireworks!* Parties! Eating!

Remember when you were a kid and the summer was the fun time of year when you could do whatever you wanted to do. Every. Single. Day. Eating ice cream and watermelon (spitting the seeds when your mom wasn’t looking). Riding your bike. Swimming from dawn to dusk. Staying up late. Running around and playing outside.

Even though this grown up is mostly enjoying this summer in the over air conditioned comfort of a concrete and glass box, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine and fun that comes with the season. Like right now: I’m sitting at the patio table (yes, we get wifi outside!), enjoying the sounds of summer (leaf blowers and birds chirping), admiring the jungly Urban Farm and watching the Gs lounge about.

It’s been fun seeing old pals (right, Helen, Christine, Fred and Chris?), meeting new ones (that’s you, Cam, Jon, and Louie), enjoying an amazing harvest on almost a daily basis, enjoying long walks with Bruce and the Gs, exploring new parts of Dallas, and yes, enjoying tasty treats. Luckily for us, lots of yummy stuff is coming directly from the Urban Farm.

IMG_5416

the first tomatillos with their husks still on. in the supermarket the husks are usually pretty dried out and more brown. they are also $2.99/lb at our local Albertsons.

One of those treats has to do with my tomatillo experimentation. I’ve harvested about 1 1/2 pounds of tomatillos  so far with more to come (so about $4.50 worth if you’re shopping at Albertsons). I planted them so I could make jars of homemade salsa verde (literal translation is “green sauce”.)

I’ve never really made it before—or knew how bountiful the plants could be. Usually I just pick up a jar at the grocery story.

When we got the latest issue of Bon Appetit, Bruce mentioned that he saw a simple recipe for salsa verde on one of the first pages of the issue. With almost all the required ingredients, I decided to give it a whirl, literally, as you’ll see in just a moment.

So we had tomatillos, onions, and cilantro leftover from a recipe (it’s too hot for it to grow here right now, it’s a fall/winter/spring herb). And lots of peppers.

IMG_5419

lots of peppers

But we didn’t have Serrano chiles. We have poblanos, jalapeños, and bell peppers. I picked jalapeños as my Serrano replacement, but I guess any spicy pepper would do.

IMG_5424

the recipe inspiration — thanks, Bruce!

IMG_5422

ready for a whirl in the Nutribullet

It was pretty easy to husk and quarter the tomatillos. I peeled and quartered the onion. Threw the cilantro in there too. And I was careful with the jalapeño since sometimes they have a big unexpected bite. I didn’t really bother to chop anything up much because Bruce’s magical green drink blender was going to do all the hard work.

IMG_5423

the finished product: a big jar of salsa verde in mere seconds!

If you make it, grab some tortilla chips and a bunch of friends and plow through it—this is good stuff. We also like it as a sauce on white fish (excellent on cod for example). It’s good on eggs, tacos, grilled meat, perhaps you’ll want to try it on some  veggies or as a quick alternative potato salad dressing. I made it last weekend and  we still have about 1/2 jar left but I bet it’s gone by Sunday. Let me know if you try making it. My next version will be roasting the tomatillos first because I like the smoky char taste.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day is our 4th of July boy George:

George and his trout

George and his trout (there may also be a tennis ball in his mouth)

 

* Despite my love of fireworks, they’re not allowed at the Mortroski Midcentury. Our sweet Georgie is ours as a result of a fireworks accident. Read more about his story here and here. Please keep your 4-legged pals safely inside tonight if you’re located in the U.S.of A.

Advertisements

Sow: urban farm update

Unknown

Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

IMG_5332

We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

IMG_5344

I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

IMG_5346

The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

IMG_5347

Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

IMG_5355

Okra is well underway

IMG_5356

Flowers on the green bean vines

IMG_5357

Bell peppers are going strong

IMG_5358

A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

IMG_5359

This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

IMG_5360

Lots of jalapeños

IMG_5361

The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

IMG_5362

This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

IMG_5363

Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

IMG_5350

 

Sow: tree rat vendetta

This is not an ode to the cute, furry and omnipresent squirrel in all its varying colors (ours in North Texas are gray, by the way). If you want that, you’d better go right now to Evil Squirrel’s Nest and have a whirl around that blog. Tons of cartoons and photos. Get your ultra cute tree rat fill. I’m not publicizing those critters here.

No, this is an angry rant. A declaration of war from normally peace-loving me:

“Ok, tree rats, there are now 5 peaches on the huge peach tree. As of Friday, the branches were packed with little developing peaches. Now, there are green peaches all over the yard with one or two bites out of them. If you’re going to steal them and eat them before they’re ripe, you need to finish them. And when you do finish them, you guys keep leaving the pits where Gidget can get them. She’s going to break a tooth just like Guinness did a couple of years ago. We do not need another vet bill for a slab fracture. So as of tonight, every time I see you near the garden, on the fence, in the bird bath, anywhere in the yard, I’m opening the back door and yelling ‘Squirrel!’ Enjoy the exercise, you little bastards.”

I am not kidding.

I am furious there will be no 2014 peach jam. It was going to be the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm’s fabulously delicious Christmas gift. And I was so excited about spending an afternoon cleaning and peeling peaches, prepping them for freezing (it is too hot to make jam in North Texas in July), then finally making jam one afternoon in November when it’s cool enough to break out the canner, boiling water, sterilized jars, and cooling racks. It’s a production that I look forward to. It’s two afternoons of fun. And they’ve been stolen away from me. Bastards.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014. Luckily we have two big jars left.

After my angry post yesterday, my Facebook friends have made quite an assortment of suggestions about how to ensure we have peach jam in 2015. Better dog training. Crown of thorns attached to tree. Metal object hanging from the tree that you switch up when the squirrels aren’t as afraid. BB guns. BB guns with scopes. Air guns. (Remember, we’re in Texas so firepower solves problems, y’all.)

I have defended the squirrels from the Gs since we’ve moved here. No more. I’m thinking the dogs are finally going to get their wish and taste squirrel for the first time.

Here is the gratuitous blood-thirsty squirrel hunter photo of the day:

10404089_10204292821584789_6509347495356114409_n

Gidget on Saturday between three dog beds, minus their covers (which were in the dryer). Photo by Bruce

 

 

 

Sow: long weekend landscaping

It’s been a long day with a very tight deadline for work, so I’m up late and writing more as a little wind down, despite my laptop feeling like it’s overheating from the exuberant pounding I’ve been giving it all day. Whenever I am away from the office for a week, there’s usually some sort of fallout. I expected today to go exactly the way it did and I was not surprised.

On the plus side, the weekend was a long one (Memorial Day here in the USA), so today, you’re getting lots of photos. First up was our long weekend landscaping project which fortunately was not hampered by all the (much needed) rain that we’ve been getting since Sunday.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Bruce and I were very unimpressed at the high cost of the type of patio planters we were looking for so we looked to the Urban Farm for a little inspiration: Stock Tanks! These mini stock tanks from Tractor Supply Company are absolutely perfect for some patio accents. Now we just need to find some patio lanterns (ah, a wee bit of Canadian content for you hosers).

IMG_5245

Look at me all covered with dirt and happy as can be. We picked up two tiny stock tanks for the new patio and put blue agave and lemon coral sedum in them. I like ’em! • Photo by Bruce

And guess where they're made...

And guess where they’re made…and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is in the driveway, it’s Gidget’s and Godiva’s wading pool • photo by Bruce

IMG_5242

Mini stock tanks in context after the first of the weekend’s rain storms. At least all of the plants, the grass, and the Urban Farm are super happy with all the water. Our new rain gauge said we received 1/2 of an inch yesterday.

Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and more today.

The gigantic harvests are starting. Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and still more today. From left: power greens mix (spinach, chard, kale), big bag of mint, a huge head of curly lettuce, a bell pepper, a bunch of beets, two jalapeños, and a big bowl of salad greens. 

As a special treat, it’s gratuitous dog photos galore!

IMG_5253

George could finally relax and sleep through the night again. • Photo by Bruce

IMG_5252

And here’s a little update on my sweet pal Murphy: here he is with his new sister Harley. He looks pretty content, don’t you think? • photo by Debbie

Sow: signs

IMG_5167

Photo by Bruce

Sign of the times. Follow the signs. Here’s your sign. If you flip through my iPhoto library, you’ll see that signs frequently capture my eyes. I like ’em rusty. I like ’em slick. I LOVE them when they’re funny (at least to me). And I really love putting fun signs amongst the veggies and flowers of the Mortroski Midcentury Urban farm.

Our latest arrival is the word “Garden.” Made by a metal craftsperson, it caught Bruce’s and my eyes when we were out looking for some planters for our patio last weekend. Needless to say we never found the right pots, so the search continues. Maybe we’ll just go for some smaller format stock tanks…

Here’s the sign on the wall of the new part of the garden (Fig tree is just out of frame to the right):

IMG_5170

Raised bed #4 has the out of control salad greens, the power greens (kale, spinach, chard), and the rogue tomato plants. A pot of mini roses that are not doing great and a pot of mint are also in this photo. And the little wood square on the fence is a window so our little kid next door neighbors can watch the garden and the Gs. Photo by Bruce

I love how happy it is—so cheerful and fun. And the primary colors are really nice on the wood fence.

One more happy addition is our new garden owl. Not only is he a wise old welcome sign, he’s also a rain gauge (the yellow glass tube) which will be fun to see fill up during our wacky Texas downpours. Here’s hoping for rain very soon!

IMG_5163

Wise old rain gauge • photo by Bruce

Slowly, but surely, we’ll collect more fun stuff to brighten up the plants. I am looking forward to seeing the evolution. After all, change is the only constant, in life and in gardening.

For today’s gratuitous dog photo, I thought I’d share that Bruce informed me that the Gs are being very lazy today. Clearly Gidget needs a nap:

IMG_4169

So tired • photo by Bruce

Sow: incarcerated fig

The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm isn’t just for veggies (or dogs). We’ve got three fruit trees too: a plum tree and a peach tree that came with the house and a very young fig tree I planted a couple of years ago.

Little fig tree is coming into its own this spring and when one of our Canadian visitors pointed out that she saw tiny little figs sprouting, I knew something had to be done STAT!

You see, we have roving bands of marauding grackles even though the 4Gs do their best to chase them from the yard. Those naughty birds spend a lot of time picking our neighbors’ three fig trees clean of any figs, so we needed to take action, quickly, before they realized that our little tree was chock full of yummy figgy goodies. And yes, they eat the baby figs green. Bastards.

Taking action was easy enough. Bruce went to the local big box home improvement/garden center store during his lunch break to pick up just two things to build the tiny tree’s prison: bamboo stakes and bird net. Now before you go all PETA on me about the bird net, it’s not for catching birds, it’s for covering plants so the birds won’t get in there. I have used it with great success for several years on my sad tomato experiments with no winged casualties (there was a deceased bird near the urban farm last year, but I suspect feline foul play, not bird net) and once it’s in place, the birds (and squirrels) stay away, mostly because the plants look different.

Here are a few figgy photos so you can see what I mean:

IMG_5166

figs galore! shot through the bird net.

IMG_5165

bird net close up — see the yummy tiny fig?

IMG_5164

the fig facility: yes, those are binder clips!

The stakes are around 4 feet high so the fig tree is still more petite than me. But unlike me, it still has the chance to get taller.

The bricks are an inelegant temporary solution. It was very windy during the install on Monday night so I thought it might not be prudent to cut the bird net then. I’m going to adjust the bird net when both Bruce and I are at home this weekend (he was in Boston during the install and I’m in California until Saturday) and then pin it down using landscaping pins for a better look.

As for the office supplies in use, I find that binder clips are very helpful on the urban farm. I use them during the cold months to secure the frost cloth to tomato cages, the lips of the stock tanks, the bars of the trellises, and even attach the ends of the frost cloth to itself. That’s why when I noticed that theses stakes were so thin that the bird net’s holes could slip down and touch the fig tree, I grabbed a few. I may concoct another solution that looks a little better, but for now, they’ll stay.

So now that the fig tree is all locked up, hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a few months with a nice big fig harvest. I’d settle for a few to eat with prosciutto and cheese or on top of a yummy salad, but my dream is to be able to make fig jam and give it as gifts. It just may be another few years. Sigh. A girl can dream.

If nothing else, fruit trees teach us patience, something we all can use in our fast paced world.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

IMG_5169

Gidget likes to bark at the photographer. It’s almost as good as saying “cheese”.

And a special treat for today, a gratuitous business travel shot from my current home away from home (and former stomping grounds):

IMG_5186

San Francisco Bay Bridge

It really was as picture postcard perfect as it looks. But don’t feel too jealous: I’m about to spend my entire day today (8:30 am – 7 pm PT)  in a dark room! But still I took a quick walk at 6:00 am in the early morning fog to pick up a Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I won’t lie, trips like these make me miss the Bay Area…

 

Sow: better than baking

photo 3

Ingredients for life: bok choi, mint, spinach, and salad greens


Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my neighbors. She lives in the next little town over and is another Duck Team 6 outreach volunteer (she is in charge of donation collection). And I surprised her with a big bag of produce that I picked minutes before she arrived.

Mindy and I don’t know each other. She and Bruce work more closely together so I had heard her name but never met her. But she had come by the house the night before to drop off a couple hundred pounds of donated dog food and she and her two kids had been in driveway (it’s in the backyard) and saw the Urban Farm. Bruce said the girls were really excited about the idea of growing food. He showed them how to pick a radish to take home and told Mindy that she should also throw the greens into that night’s salad (try it, it’s delicious if the greens are super fresh). He was happy that the kids showed so much interest, but didn’t think anything more of it, since our next door neighbor kids love looking at the garden too — he even cut them a window in the wood fence so they can see the garden and the Gs playing.

Well, that night, Mindy texted Bruce to say that her kids are bugging her to start a garden! They never had a vegetable so delicious! They wanted to get right to it on the weekend! Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, unless all they want to grow is Malbar spinach, okra, and black eyed peas! But they had the right idea.

photo 1

I had to do something to keep those kids loving vegetables. So I picked gallon ziplocs of bok choi, salad greens, and spinach. Threw in a bouquet of mint. And when Mindy showed up with more dog food yesterday morning, I had a nice surprise waiting for her. She was thrilled and knew the kids would be too. And I told her if she let me know when she was coming to drop off food, there was more where that came from (at least through the very hottest part of the summer).

Used to be when I wanted to make friends with a new neighbor, coworker, or volunteer, I’d bake something. I dare to say, that a big bag of just picked organic produce makes people even happier than cupcakes these days. You should see people’s faces light up when I share the bounty. I have my “regulars,” like Tracy, the lady who looks after the Gs. She also looks after the Urban Farm when we travel so it’s only fair that she gets a weekly delivery. Same with my sweet admin who makes my work life so easy and keeps me running smoothly. But dropping off a veggie treat to someone who’s not expecting it is almost more fun for me than the person receiving it. I love to hear how they enjoyed it and the recipes they made.

And now for your gratuitous dog photo of the day:

Duck Team 6 Volunteer Guinness taking guarding the donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Canine Duck Team 6 volunteer Guinness taking his job guarding donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Even if all you can grow is a tiny planter of herbs on a window sill, next time you go to dinner at a friend’s house, cut a tiny bouquet and tie it to the ubiquitous bottle of wine with a bright ribbon or rustic cord. I’ll bet you a quart of okra, you’ll get a similar reception.

 

 

 

Sow: thundershirt time

IMG_3010

Georgie modeling his trusty Thundershirt, closely supervised by Godiva • photo by Bruce

The last few days have been atmospherically messed up in the much of the US. Denver got snow in May. California’s got Santa Ana winds and fires burning out of control. Dallas has got cooler than usual temperatures and epic thunderstorms.

While the Urban Farm totally digs the big drinks of water (everything is ultra green) it’s been getting and it’s appreciating the break from 90°F temperatures, sweet George is not exactly a happy camper. You see, George senses every change in the weather. He’s a canine barometer. And he’s terrified of loud sounds of any kind. So Texas-sized thunder booms are not sounds he likes to hear.

This morning, he tried to hide in my closet. And he tried to sneak out the back door and go to work with me. What he really wanted to do is snuggle with someone all day long.  He pants. He paces. He freaks out. He is nothing like his usual slobbery kiss-giving snuggly self. He doesn’t make his special happy sounds. He won’t get a tennis ball. Even holding his “babies” (his stuffed toys) in his mouth doesn’t give him comfort.

But the Thundershirt does. When we know there’s stormy weather coming, George becomes a doggie burrito. We swaddle him like a newborn in his special velcro covered shirt. Maybe the other Gs laugh at him a little. He doesn’t care. He may look a little silly, but he can relax. So can we.

They have been so effective for George that several of our friends have tried them on their dogs. Would you buy a garment to help your dog relax?

Today’s gratuitous dog photo: You may remember this one from a recent post, but a goofy George picture gives you a better idea what “normal” looks like for him:

IMG_1698

 

 

Sow: perfection is overrated

When we first started the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm, I thought that I had to do everything just right or my garden wouldn’t grow. I tried to mix up the soil and compost just so. I tried to line up the transplants so they would grow neatly and symmetrically. I tried to make sure that the little signs were lovely and durable. I tried to be very organized with my tracking.

Flash forward to Spring 2014. After a very disappointing winter growing season, I didn’t have a lot of patience or time for perfection. I bought mostly seeds, not plants, although I did buy herb and pepper transplants. I bought organic compost from a local Boy Scout named Kyle, not the fancy garden center. And I literally threw seeds into the ground and hoped for the best. Well, I did use a tool called a Garda Dibble which probably helped a lot:

123 Product Photos, LLC (http://www.123ProductPhotos.com/)

Garda Dibble: a fun and brightly colored garden tool

 

So how does the Spring 2014 garden grow?

Just fine. Well, better than fine. Our weekend guests from Toronto said how pretty it looked. (That made me very happy.) It is very green and lush, soon to be even more lush after two super ugly north Texas rain storms over the past 5 days.

Best of all, it’s supplying us with veggies a plenty with lots to give away. Our guests enjoyed many yummy meals filled with ultra fresh veggies from a kale/chard salad to spinach omelets to bok choi stir fries. And of course, lots of raw radishes!

Want to see? Here are some of my views from yesterday:

IMG_4983

malabar spinach growing like weeds

IMG_4981

beautiful rosette bok choi with a two radish photobomb

IMG_4985

baby bell pepper, all shiny and new

IMG_4986

more bell peppers, a bit bigger though

IMG_4988

pole beans have doubled in size since last week and are climbing away

IMG_4989

wacky spiky lettuce!

IMG_4994

yesterday’s harvest: bok choi, salad greens, kale, chard, more radishes (although they are almost done), the first jalapeño, spinach. it’s an amazing abundance!

In the fruit department, the little peaches look plentiful. And there are figs happening too! The teeny tiny figs are so small you almost can’t see them. Time to get some bamboo stakes and bird net so I can see some of them through to maturity. And maybe there will be fig jam this fall.

One of my favorite quotes for 2014 is “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” The Spring 2014 garden’s chaos is teaching me an important lesson: not only is it clear that perfection is overrated, but also sometimes what happens is just a happy accident that works out even better than you could have ever imagined. So go with the flow! Here’s to my 2014 goal of more imperfection and more happy accidents because life’s just better when you chill out.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

IMG_4980

Gidget enjoying a weekend morning belly rub.

Sow: not alone

 

photo[2]

 

According to the National Gardening Association, 33 million US households have food gardens at home. To put that into perspective, the US Census Bureau estimated that there were 115,226,802 households in the US in 2012.

Still it’s nice to know that there are other people in the US digging in the dirt, getting filthy, and eating the fruits of their labor. But there needs to be more!

(Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all political. If you’re into that, you already know all about GMOs, the industrial farming complex, and the various conspiracy theories. And if you’re not into it, you might want to do some research on your own, but it’s up to you.)

I’m more interested in getting you to grow stuff just because it tastes better. You know I love the yuppie-hippie grocery store. But I’m sorry, in the great state of Texas, no store’s produce holds a candle to the stuff I’m growing in my little urban farm. Even Bruce agrees. And I like nothing better than grabbing a big bowl and walking over to the raised beds and stock tanks to pick dinner.

And truthfully running my fingers through the dirt probably makes me into a nicer, calmer person. That’s my gardening’s gift to the rest of the planet.

So why not join the revolution? Put a few herbs in a pot and call it an act of defiance. Eat something you’ve grown and say “Viva!”

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

George is exhausted from all the fresh air. Photo by Bruce.

George is exhausted from all the fresh air. Photo by Bruce.