Sunday, 29 June 2014

Some Early Peas and Some Pests

Tom Thumb Peas

We continue to make little changes in the way we plant things every year. This year we decided that our season is usually long enough that we can in some cases plant two crops, one after the other, in the same space. The idea was to plant early, determinate peas, pick and freeze them in a few big batches, then rip them out around July 1st, and plant a mix of determinate and indeterminate, but fast producing beans.

We planted two different early peas; Tom Thumb and Strike, as early as we could possibly get them out, then covered them with hoop-houses for a while. That was on April 14th. Tom Thumb is shown in the picture above. Most of the pods have 6 to 8 peas in them, but about 1 in 30 has 9 peas; and by odd chance the one I split open to show the peas happened to be a 9er. The peas could have been a little larger for perfection. I find that both of these peas tend to get large, swollen pods before the peas are fully developed, and so the peas are not always as large as I expect. The pods are rather tough, too, which doesn't make it any easier to determine ripeness.

Tom Thumb is an heirloom pea, or rather, there are a number of different heirloom peas that tend to get called Tom Thumb. They share in common being very short, determinate, early peas. We have tried a strain of Tom Thumb from Prairie Garden, and another one from The Cottage Gardener. Last year we decided we like the strain from The Cottage Gardener better, and that it also fit the description of Tom Thumb peas much better - the ones from Prairie Garden reached a foot and a half in height. The plants from Cottage Gardener are really short, and don't get much above 8" in height. Originally, Tom Thumb was started in cold-frames for super early production, which made their low height a requirement. In spite of the low height, they have a respectable number of pea pods per plant; perhaps 8 to 12 over a 2 to 3 week period.

Overall, while we like Tom Thumb, it did not work as well for our purpose as the Strike. It was just a few days slower to get started producing peas, probably in about 65 days for us, and it is slower to wind up production. Because we need to rip them out and replant, the resulting overall difference of about 7 to 10 days in the ground matters - that's 7 to 10 days that have to be taken off the growing season for the beans.

Strike Peas

Our other pea used in this experiment was Strike. I chose it because it was the shortest season pea I could find. William Dam, our source, says they are ready in 55 days. Ours probably took a little closer to 60, but they are still definitely the earliest pea we have ever grown. Moreover, they produced for about 2 weeks then were done - We planted the first bed of them on April 12th, and we pulled them out on June 27th. - 3 days ahead of our goal of July 1st.

Strike is not an heirloom pea; it appears it was bred in Idaho by PureLine Seeds Inc, of Idaho, presumably some time in the second half of the 20th century. The plants are longer and rangier than Tom Thumb, reaching up to 2' in length. They would have benefited from a few short sticks stuck into the bed, but they did okay just sprawling, so far as growth was concerned. They are also still short enough that we had no trouble keeping them under a hoop-house for as long as we needed. Plants are a very rich, dark blueish-green, and the peas are a stronger green than the Tom Thumb, which tend a little to the yellow side. Again, there were generally 6 to 8 peas per pod, but I haven't seen any with 9 peas. Quantity of pea pods produced is probably a good bit more than Tom Thumb  - maybe 50% more.

I say probably, because we had a new problem with our peas this year - they got eaten! I mean, they always get eaten, but preferably by US. This time they got eaten, I think, by a raccoon, or raccoons. They didn't get them all - we were able to achieve our minimum expectation for packets of frozen peas, but only just. We should have gotten a lot more. Strangely, only the lowest peas got eaten - anything over a foot off the ground seemed to be safe. Much more of the Strike got eaten than the Tom Thumb, but I don't think that was through any particular preference for the Strike; I think it is because they were ripe first and so that's where they headed first. I have never had this problem with peas I have grown on a trellis. They completely ignored the Dual, for example, which were growing in the next bed with the lowest growing peas within their reach, I would have thought. It is possible that if we had put a few sticks for support in with the Strike peas that the raccoons would have been more deterred from eating them. Possible. Who knows; raccoons are determined little sugar fiends, which is why I have given up on growing corn and why they will cheerfully settle for peas.

Neither of these peas are the sweetest, best tasting peas. Later peas are both sweeter and richer in flavour, but they are also later, and require trellising or other support. Still, these two taste pretty good! By growing them as a first crop followed by beans, we can probably triple or quadruple the quantity of peas we put into the freezer. Since peas seem to be the favourite vegetable of just about everyone in the family, this is a very good thing. 

So, how did this experiment work? It's too early to tell, because we still have to get the beans in and perform the second half of the experiment. But so far, it's looking very feasible. This was a slow, cool spring, and some years we can expect to be able to plant before mid April. It seems pretty clear though, that it's plant those peas by mid April or bust. We will also drop the Tom Thumb, at least for this purpose, and stick to the Strike, because we will need those extra 7 to 10 days for the next crop that Strike provides. We also expect the Strike to produce quite a few more peas, especially if we can keep those rotten raccoons out.

We planted our peas 6" apart in every direction, and even as we were planting I was afraid that was too far apart. It was, and we got a lot of weeds and not as many peas as we would have liked. Next time, they will be planted about 4" apart in every direction, which will  hopefully also double our crop. Our theoretical crop, anyway.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Lamb with Peas & Garlic Scapes

We decided to plant some very early peas this year, so we are now picking lots of them! Garlic scapes also got picked this week. We still have lamb in the freezer from last fall since I didn't eat much of it when I was on my reduced fat diet. (It has been a fabulous tasting lamb, but there was no getting around it: it was a bit on the fatty side.) Put them all together, and this was the result. I enjoyed it very much.

3 to 4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30  minutes prep time

Lamb with Peas & Garlic Scapes

450 grams (1 pound) lean boneless stewing lamb
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon salt (if stock is unsalted)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups lamb, beef, or chicken stock

2 cups shelled peas
24 garlic scapes (about 1 1/2 cups when chopped)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, again
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup sour cream

Pat the lamb dry, and toss it with the flour and salt. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the lamb until lightly browned all over. Add the stock and stir well, making sure all the flour has been unstuck from the pan and mixed in well. Reduce the heat and simmer the meat for 30 to 45 minutes. This can be done in advance, and in fact should be, since allowing the meat to cool before continuing will make it more tender. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized stewing pot and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to proceed.

Shell the peas. Wash the garlic scapes, and trim off the tough, narrow ends. Chop them into inch-long pieces.

Mix the peas into the pot with the lamb, and bring it up to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the garlic scapes until softened and slightly browned in spots; about 5 minutes. Grind the spices, and sprinkle them over the garlic scapes. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes more, stirring to make sure the spices are well blended in. Add the garlic scapes and spices to the stew and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the peas are tender.

Mix in the sour cream, and allow the stew to reheat for a minute or two, but do not allow it to come to a full simmer. Serve with polenta, rice, boiled potatoes, or pasta.

Last year at this time I made Strawberry-Poppyseed Salad Dressing, and Unbaked Ginger-Lime Cheese Pie (with Berry Sauce).

Monday, 23 June 2014

Haskap Berries

So! Those haskap berries that I put in the muffins in the previous post: what the heck are they? Believe it or not, they are a form of honeysuckle. They are originally from Japan and north-eastern Asia, and have been grown in Japan and Russia for their fruit for many years. Serious breeding efforts started in the 1950's.

Haskaps were brought to North America some time ago, but were varieties selected as landscape plants. Apparently, their fruit tasted terrible! So plant developers here knew they were edible, but did not think they were worth pursuing. It wasn't until the 1990's that Jim Gilbert of One Green World Nursery in Molalla, Oregon acquired several Russian varieties bred as fruit, and began promoting them, that anyone in North America considered them as a food crop. Since then they have become a bit of a fad, and you can readily find them available as plants at nurseries, even the ones set up by grocery or hardware stores in their parking lots for the season.

The University of Saskatchewan has been very active in breeding and promoting them. They are well-suited to our northern climate, and will grow in poor, soggy soil - indeed, they prefer that, being plants from the sides of rivers in their wild state.

Two years ago we bought three plants from T & T Seeds. They were  Borealis, Tundra, and one plant sold as a pollinator, which for some reason I suspect of being Berry Blue. Did it actually have a label when it arrived? Maybe. At any rate, it is typical for haskaps to be sold in sets of 2 or 3, as one plant will not produce fruit unless there is a suitable pollinator nearby. Just because you have 2 different varieties, does not mean that they are guaranteed to pollinate each other. They must not be too closely related, and that can be a problem given that many of these plants come from breeding programs with a fairly narrow range of genetic material to draw upon. The University of Saskatchewan page has a chart at the bottom which will help you choose if you are not buying them a preselected set.

Under ripe berries can taste a little bitter, and we thought the pollinator tasted a little bitter even when ripe. None of the varieties we have tried - and I'm pretty sure we now have 4 or 5 different ones in our garden - have been outstandingly sweet; not too surprising in a fruit that ripens this early. They are tart, verging as noted on the bitter, and the flavour is not particularly distinctive. Nevertheless, we are very happy we decided to give them a try and they will be a good addition to our garden.

What makes them so appealing to us, even though the flavour is a little on the ho-hum side? Well, the plants themselves are very attractive. The leaves are a standard oval, in a lovely light green, but with a slightly fuzzy - visually at least - texture. They are also attractively arranged, somehow. The flowers are not showy and are hidden by the leaves at any rate. This is not a showpiece of a plant, but it is a fine, fine shrub as a background for perennial flowers and other more flamboyant shrubs. They are also tough, tolerant of varying conditions, quick to get established without growing out of bounds, and amenable to trimming and pruning - a very good ornamental garden plant, in fact. The berries are a bonus, and given that they ripen extremely early, a very nice bonus indeed. They get picked with the very earliest of our earliest strawberries, when we are absolutely panting to get some fresh fruit from the garden.

The berries are bit soft and probably won't keep too well. I suspect they would freeze, but we won't be able to try that this year - we expect to eat them all! They should make good jam, I would think, but again, that will have to wait until our plants are more established. This is only their second year in our garden, after all.

If you decide to plant haskaps they are, as noted, pretty tolerant of varying conditions. They do like plenty of water, although I suspect they will tolerate some late-summer drought, especially once they are established. But give them a good moist spot if you can. The local birds did not discover them last year until fairly late in the season, but once they did they stripped the bushes. This year we are keeping them covered with bird netting. The birds seem to have forgotten them again, but I suspect once they are on their mental map of edible berries, they will be back at them with much enthusiasm.

Given the virtues of haskaps, I think they will continue to become more popular. I also suspect that as breeding efforts continue, the flavour of newer varieties will also continue to improve. I suspect it won't be long before we are seeing commercial plantings of haskaps, and fresh and processed haskap product available. Even once they are available commercially though, if you have a modest garden space or more they will continue to be well worth planting yourself for their early fruit and season-long beauty in the garden.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Pop-Pop's Biscuit Muffins - with Haskaps

One of my earliest cooking memories, from when I was 8 or 9, is of getting up early before anyone else was up and helping my grandfather make breakfast. He made coffee,  taught me to make scrambled eggs, and we made these muffins. Well, kind of these muffins. His were stupendously light, white, and fluffy, because he used white flour and shortening. I tend to make them with half whole wheat flour, and butter, so mine are more ecru. I'm really happy, though, that even then I thought to get the recipe.

I thought of them this week when we pickd our first haskap berries. This is only their second year in our garden, and between 4 or 5 plants we managed to collect a cup of berries in one picking. Last year, when we planted them, there were only enough to taste a few berries each.

Unless you are growing haskap, you are unlikely to have them available. You can replace them with raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries when the time for them arrives, or these are perfectly good muffins without any berries added - Pop-Pop didn't.

Note: If you use the haskap berries, or some other really tart berry, such as cranberries or raspberries, you may wish to double the sugar. Or not; but it's something to think about.

6 large muffins
30 minutes prep time

Pop-Pop's Biscuit Muffins - with Haskaps

2 cups soft unbleached flour
OR 1 cup soft unbl flour AND 1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar (see Note)
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk

1 cup small berries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare six muffin cups, by buttering and flouring them, or by lining them with muffin papers. 

Measure the flour and mix in the baking powder and salt - this can be done right in the measuring cup.

Cream the butter and sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Break in the egg and mix it in well.

Stir in the flour alternately with the milk,  until well blended, but do not over-mix. Gently stir in the berries, if you wish to include some.

Divide the (fairly stiff) batter evenly between the 6 muffin cups. Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and firm on top. Remove from the tins after 5 or 10 minutes to finish cooling, but these are best eaten while freshly baked.

Last year at this time I made Squash Blossom Fritters

Monday, 16 June 2014

Creamy Asparagus Quiche with Ham & Cheddar

This was a rich and creamy, delicious variation on the theme of quiche. It's great to make ahead, and a good leafy lettuce salad makes it a complete meal. Easy, too!

I used my favourite crust, as usual - it's also easy, and has a nice substance to it. I trimmed off enough that I made a couple of little flat biscuits with the trimmings - just patted them out and slid them into the oven for 15 minutes right on the folded up piece of parchment paper I rolled the crust out on.

8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
PLUS time to cool

Creamy Asparagus Quiche with Ham and Cheddar

Make the Crust:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup buttermilk, milk or cream
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

The butter should be very soft. Mix it with the oil and milk. The butter can be in fairly large lumps. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour. Mix the flour into the wet ingredients. Stir until everything is amalgamated. There should no longer be large lumps of butter, but small lumps or streaks are not only fine, but good.

Put the dough out on a piece of parchment or waxed paper a little larger than the pie plate, and roll out the dough until it will fit it well. Turn it into the pie plate - you will need a 10" one - and press it into place. Peel off the parchment paper, and trim the edges. Press them neatly into a ridge around the top. Poke the base of the crust a number of times with a fork, to keep it from puffing too much as it bakes.

Bake the pie crust for 10 minutes at 350°F.

Make the Filling:
500 grams (1 pound) asparagus
3 large eggs
250 grams (1/2 pound) light cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a good scraping of nutmeg
125 grams (1/4 pound) chopped ham
125 grams (1/4 pound) diced Cheddar cheese

Wash and trim the asparagus, and cut the tips off about 1/3 of the way down. Cut the bottom 2/3 pieces smaller. Put a pot of water on to boil, and boil the bottom 2/3 pieces for about 6 minutes, until quite tender. Cool them in cold water, and drain them well, but keep the pot of boiling water as you will use it for the rest of the asparagus. Cook the asparagus tips for 3 minutes, then cool and drain them as well.

Put the cooked bottom pieces in the bowl of a food processor, and process until finely chopped. Break in the eggs, and process again. Add the cream cheese, and process again until the mixture is very smooth. Whizz in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Chop the asparagus tips, keeping the very tops aside to garnish the top of the quiche if you like. Mix the remainder with the ham and Cheddar, and spread them evenly in the baked pie crust. Pour the filling evenly over them, and garnish with the reserved asparagus tips, assuming you have reserved them. Bake the pie at 350°F for about 50 minutes, until just set in the middle. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Last year at this time I made Stir-Fried Radishes with Their Greens.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Radish Gazpacho

We interrupt the asparagus love-fest that is early June to serve something else for once. Don't worry; there will be more asparagus - but in the meantime, there are also radishes! I saw Nigel Slater's recipe in the Guardian, and was inspired to try my own version of this soup.

I bought these radishes as my own are not great. It has been too hot and dry, and they are going straight for their reproductive future; do not pass go, do not form a bulbous root. Of course, all that means is that I pull them out and compost them. But somebody is managing to grow radishes successfully, so here they are in a gazpacho.

This is a light yet strongly flavoured dish, so serve it as an appetizer or first course. You could also serve it as a side with a sandwich.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Radish Gazpacho

12 round red radishes
1 large red tomato
4" to 6" piece of English greenhouse cucumber
1 or 2 garlic scapes
OR 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh radish leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water

Wash and trim the radishes, and cut them in quarters. Put them into the bowl of a food processor. Peel the cucumber, cut it into chunks, and add them as well. Chop up the garlic scapes (or peel and chop the garlic cloves) and in they go. Process until amalgamated, but fairly chunky, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed.

Coarsely chop the chives, mint, and radish leaves, and add them to the food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Process until the mixture has a fine, soupy texture - it should have little flecks of vegetable visible, and not be a complete purée.

Chill the soup until you are ready to serve it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Spanish Tortilla with Asparagus

I've made tortillas before, but this is the first time I've put anything in besides potatoes and onions. In spite of the fact that recipes for tortilla often claim that other vegetables can be added, I never saw tortillas with anything but potato and onion when we were in Spain.  Still, asparagus makes a great addition!

If we had found a tortilla with asparagus in it in Spain, the asparagus would almost certainly have been white. As we walked through the spring countryside, we saw fields full of black plastic rows weighted down with old tires - that was where asparagus was being grown. The Spanish seem to only like it white, and rather overcooked to my taste. The asparagus in this tortilla should be cooked a little past crunchy - it should meld with the other ingredients - but it should still be bright green and perky though.

4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Spanish Tortilla with Asparagus

8 large eggs
675 grams (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes
1/4 cup sunflower or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
450 grams (1 pound) asparagus
5 to 6 garlic scapes
OR 3 to 4 green onions
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them lightly. Set them aside at room temperature as you prepare the rest of the dish.

Scrub the potatoes and trim them of any bad spots. Cut them into dice. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the potatoes. Sprinkle them with the salt, and cook them, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Keep them covered for most of the time.

Meanwhile, put a small pot of water on to boil for the asparagus and preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash and trim the asparagus. Cut it into bite-sized pieces. Simmer it for 4 or 5 minutes, then drain well. If you like, keep the tips separate to sprinkle them over the top as a garnish.

Trim the garlic scapes or green onions, and chop them finely. Add them to the potatoes after they have cooked for about 15 minutes. Immediately add the well-drained asparagus as well, and mix them in well. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the eggs evenly over the vegetables. Top with the asparagus tips if they have been saved for that purpose.

Bake the tortilla at 375°F for 10 to 12 minutes, until just set. Let cool for at least half an hour before serving warm, or at room temperature.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Pea Shoots with Oyster Mushrooms

I think I make a pea, mushroom and allium dish every spring. There are enough variations in both peas and mushrooms that they all seem a bit different.

This one could perhaps even have been done all through the winter, if you can find someone growing pea shoots as a micro-green. I have to say, though, that I would really prefer to make this with pea shoots picked at the dau-miu stage, which is to say less stem and more leaflet, but nobody seems to be growing them as such, at least not around here. C'mon, farmers! Get with the programme. In theory, I could pick them as such from my own garden, but I can never bring myself to diminish the pea harvest in that way!

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
300 grams (10 ounces) oyster mushrooms
6 cups loosely packed pea shoots
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Mix the arrowroot, soy sauce, vinegar, and water in a small bowl and set it aside.

Trim the tough stems from the mushrooms and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Rinse and pick over the pea shoots, and drain them well. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Cook the mushrooms until softened and slightly browned, then mix in the garlic. Mix in the pea shoots, turning them to get them cooking down evenly. When they are mostly wilted, stir up the sauce well then pour it over the vegetables. Mix it in well, and continue cooking and stirring until the pea shoots and mushrooms are done to your liking. 

Last year at this time I made Seedy Chicken Salad with Sweet Sesame Dressing

Friday, 6 June 2014

Asparagus Mushroom Salad with Mustard-Miso Mayonnaise Dressing

Another day, another asparagus salad. This one is fairly different from the last one. For one thing, it's much quicker and simpler, although it is also more of a side salad than a meal in itself.

I really liked the dressing. and it was super quick and easy to make. I was afraid it might be too salty when I tasted it, but once it was tossed into the vegetables it was just right.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Asparagus Mushroom Salad with Mustard-Miso Mayonnaise Dressing

Make the Dressing:
1 teaspoon dark miso
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup mayonnaise

In a small bowl, dissolve the miso in the vinegar, then mix in the mustard. Mix in the mayonnaise. Set aside.

Make the Salad:
450 grams (1 pound) fresh asparagus
225 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
1 green onion
4 to 6 lettuce leaves

Put a pot of water on to boil. Wash and trim the asparagus, and cut it into small bite-sized pieces. Add them to the boiling water, and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cool water, then drain them very well and blot them dry.

Meanwhile, clean and slice the mushrooms. Trim and mince the onion. Wash the lettuce leaves and dry them well.

Arrange the lettuce in a serving bowl, or in individual serving dishes. Toss the asparagus, mushrooms and green onions with the dressing, and spoon them over the lettuce.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Asparagus, Bacon, & Avocado Pasta Salad with Tangy Avocado Dressing

We do love a good meal-in-a-salad, and this was a great one. Our garden is still churning out frightening amounts of lettuce, and the asparagus is still going strong. Avocados, I admit, are not local, but they go so very well with the other ingredients. On that note, I also have to say that I think lemon juice would have been better than the apple cider vinegar, but the vinegar was what we had. It was certainly just fine!

It's a good idea to cut both avocados at once, and choose the softer one for the salad dressing.

This is a much more vegetably salad than most pasta salads, although not quite so much as the photo makes it appear - I sprinkled the asparagus over the top before I tossed it into the salad, but for some reason all the lettuce seemed to end up on top too. It does tend to float, I guess, so dig deep into the bowl when you are serving it up.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time - 30 minutes of which may be done in advance

Advance Preparation:
250 grams (1/2 pound) stubby pasta
250 grams (1/2 pound) fresh asparagus
250 grams (1/2 pound) lean bacon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and boil the pasta until tender. Meanwhile, wash, trim, and chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces. Add them to the pasta when it has about 5 minutes more to cook. Drain them both and rinse them in cold water to cool. Drain well.

Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces, and cook them until crisp in a skillet over medium heat. Drain well.

The pasta, asparagus and bacon can be cooked up to a day ahead, and kept, covered, in the refrigerator until  you are ready to proceed.  

Make the Salad:
1 small head butterhead (aka Boston or Bibb) lettuce
1 large tomato
1 large ripe avocado

Wash the lettuce well, and chop it fairly finely. Wash the tomato and chop it finely. Cut the avocado in  half, and discard the pit. Cut each half through the flesh to the skin, with horizontal and vertical cuts, then use a large, fairly sharp-edged spoon to remove the resulting bite-sized pieces from the skin. Add the avocado pieces to the lettuce and tomato in a large salad bowl.

Mix in the prepared pasta, asparagus, and bacon. 

Make the Dressing:
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar OR the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the avocado in half, discarding the pit. Scoop out the flesh and and mash it thoroughly. Mix it in a small bowl with the buttermilk, apple cider or lemon juice, the salt, and the pepper.

Toss the salad with the salad dressing just before serving.

Last year at this time I made Asparagus Pesto and Rhubarb Meringue Trifle

Monday, 2 June 2014

Usual Manic Spring Gardening Post with Extra Bonus Chaos

So, here we are at the time of year when almost all of the spring planting should be done, and we should be moving into the time of weeding, watering, and whacking.

From a distance, things don't look too bad. Most of the main garden beds are planted. Trellises are behind, with only two put up, but overall things look fairly neat and appear to be moving along.

The spinach is going to seed, but the garlic looks lovely. Soon there will be garlic scapes. Beyond them, the peas, which were planted before the great Dadastrophe, are starting to flower. These are 3 beds of short determinate peas to be pulled and frozen, and the beds replanted with beans sometime around the beginning of July. There are also 2 beds of tall, later peas (with the trellises) which will be in for all season, or as long as they last anyway.

The lettuce has recovered from being pruned by the rabbit first thing in the spring, and the rabbit doesn't seem to have been back for seconds. Maybe it got eaten, I say hopefully. At any rate we are now eating lots and lots of salads.

Tomatoes still look pretty dinky, but they are in, and have generally doubled in size in the last week.

We have a number of beds covered with hoop-houses partly because they contain heat loving plants like sweet potatoes, peanuts, melons, peppers, and eggplants, and partly because we direct seeded many of those things instead of starting them inside in pots and planting them out and got a new problem.

We set little half toilet paper tubes around each set of seeds, to keep them from being destroyed by cut worms. However, a few days after we planted them, when they were starting to germinate, a crow (we're pretty sure, given the diabolical cleverness exhibited and the lack of footprints) discovered the seeds  under a tube, then deduced that this meant there were treats under all the tubes, and methodically went through the garden, destroying about three-quarters of the tubes and eating probably about half the seeds. We had to go through and check and replant pretty much everything. Now we will keep them covered until they are too large to be of interest to the crows.

Carrots have been planted. We lifted up the row-cover and weeded today, and then replanted all the bare spots, which amounted to about half the bed. Ho hum. Carrots are amazingly fussy when small, and I think they missed getting watered on one day at a crucial point. The onions, behind them, are doing fairly well.

The spinach is mostly over, as it is rapidly running to seed. You can see the potato sprouts coming up under them - we planted both potatoes and spinach in the fall, and it is a great system. I'll yank the spinach in the next day or so and freeze it, and then the potatoes can come up unimpeded.

In spite of the cold winter all of our kiwi plants look somewhere between very good and still alive, and I'd rate 10 out of 12 of them as very good. Maybe they will actually do some growing this year!

Haskap blossoms are almost over already; I could only find a few hidden ones to photograph - berries should be ready to eat in a few weeks! We will have to remember to drape them with cloth when they start to ripen. The birds have figured out that they are tasty.

Strawberries are in full bloom, and judging by the number or blossoms it should be a bumper year for strawberries - even better than last year, when they were extremely plentiful but could have used a bit more heat to make them sweeter.

Now for the bad news. There are all kinds of spots that are barely started. This is just one of three long vegetable beds that are still full of weeds. It will probably take a day each to weed them, and really, they should have been planted last week. With plants started indoors in late April. Instead, we will have to direct seed.

Also, rain. As in, there isn't any. Forecast is calling for thunderstorms scattered showers today, but they have scaled back their promises predictions considerably, and I will believe it when I see it at any rate. Our shallow well will go dry very shortly, and we will have to switch to watering with metered water. Watering is very time consuming as well as expensive, and means we are not doing other things that we would like to be doing. At least the lawn won't need quite so much mowing.

Aaaand the raspberry beds; oops.  All the perennial fruit beds are in terrible shape. Sufficient weeding has just not happened this spring, and I don't see how it can happen, given how behind we are on getting the annual vegetable beds planted. Mr. Ferdzy covered up some of the wet beds today; we are either not going to plant them at all or we are just going to let what is in them (leeks and parsnips) go to seed.

We have given up the idea of planting any brassicas to speak of. When we realized we were so far behind and that this this summer will be so full of family obligations that we will lose the equivalent of almost 2 gardening days a week in addition to the month we have already lost, we decided that something had to go. This is the plan we have come up with. Brassicas have done so very poorly for us the last few years anyway. They are being replaced with some of the things that are not going to go into the wet beds; leeks, celery, and celeriac in particular.

I am trying to to be philosophical about all this, but I admit to feeling kind of depressed and cranky. Honestly, even with all the problems and extra work we are having I lead a pretty easy life compared to a lot of people so I also feel kind of guilty about feeling depressed and cranky. But there it is. This is not going to be the summer I expected, and things will have to be let go.