Stacking Functions Garden

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Recipe: radish salsa

Radishes are in season, oh joy!  I’ve been putting them on just about everything for the last couple days.  Now we’ve used up our whole first row and have to take a break for a week or two while the second row matures.  Adam made this Wednesday night.  The recipe is his own:

Radish salsa
A handful of radishes
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
Some cilantro
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix, let sit for a little while to blend the flavors, and eat.  We fried up some perch (Adam’s dad ice fishes all winter so we have a steady supply), topped it with this salsa and a little plain yogurt, and wrapped it up in tortillas for fish tacos.  YUM!

I also imagine this salsa would be good on eggs.  I’ve been slicing radishes onto my fried eggs all week per my friend Jaime’s suggestion.  Any other great uses for radishes out there?

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How to make a killer lettuce salad

My family always asks me to bring lettuce salad to events, because I am apparently talented when it comes to lettuce.  I’m not talented at all.  There’s a secret combination of ingredients that, when combined, mean you have an awesome salad.  They are:  fruit, cheese and nuts/seeds.  You add any combination of the three to some lettuce, toss with a simple vinaigrette, and voila.

Here are some combo ideas that I’ve tried and liked:

1. Blue cheese, toasted walnuts, sliced pears

2. Blue cheese, toasted almonds, mandarin oranges (and reserve a little of the canned juice to make the vinaigrette)

3. Dried or fresh apricots, goat cheese, pecans

4. Dried pineapple, brie, cashews

5. Strawberries, brie, and walnuts

6. Raisins, swiss cheese, sunflower seeds

I usually just use a very simple red wine vinaigrette.  And when I’m making a salad at home, I use whatever we have on hand.  Often this ends up being raisins.

It’s lettuce season!  YAY!  It’s also radish season.  Going to post a new recipe of Adam’s later on today — fresh radish salsa.

Giving credit where credit is due: a few of the combo ideas above can be found in Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian (page. 40: 10 Good Fruit, Cheese and Nut combinations).  I can’t recommend that cookbook enough.  Any vegetable that you’ve got on hand, you can find a recipe for it in there.   This cookbook is appropriate for any household, not just vegetarian ones.  If we are going to have meat with a meal, we simply add it in to one of the recipes there or have our meat as a side dish.

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Why not?

It’s odd that it only recently occurred to me that much of my yard could be used to grow food for my family.  Kind-of a forehead-slapper, really.

Exactly two years ago, I was hugely pregnant with the twins, and a fellow teacher at Adam’s school said she wanted to give us a gift: raspberry plants.  Her yard was over-run and she needed to thin them out and wanted to give them to a good home.  Her gift was not just the plants, but she also came over and planted them.  Adam did the work of ripping up the sod and working up the ground, and they planted them together while I watched.

Raspberries are a bi-annual plant.  They grow the first year, go dormant over the winter, then flower, fruit, and die the next year.  All the while, they also send out “suckers” with new plants, so eventually you have a continuous hedge of plants.  (Warning: they do spread, so it might not hurt to consider that when you plant them.)

That first year we just did the bare minimum to keep them alive, and last year we had a pretty decent crop of raspberries.  I could pick a small bowl full for the kids every single morning.

raspberries08That’s our raspberry hedge in summer 2008, right there between the sidewalk and the fence.  This year, it is already thicker and richer looking than that and it’s only May!  The raspberries require less maintenance than grass would, and they look nice too.  Based on the buds that I can see, I think we will have enough berries this year to even preserve some.  (Fingers crossed.)

I am now hungrily eyeing the sunny areas of my yard envisioning what fruit I could grow there.  We have a nice sunny perennial flower garden in front, and next year we are going to rip out some phlox that is only marginally attractive and put in strawberries in its place.  I like perennial flowers and bushes, but come on, if I can put in plants that are just as attractive but actually provide food for me?  No contest.

This spring we added 3 blueberry bushes, some rhubarb, and 10 asparagus plants to the front.  So far 2 of the blueberry bushes are surviving, the rhubarb hasn’t come up yet, and 5 of the 10 asparagus are up.  I’m not throwing in the towel yet.  If these things don’t work out there are others that might.

Want to add shade to your yard?  Why not try fruit and nut trees! Some are more high-maintenance than others, so with a little homework you can choose the plant that’s right for you. Want to add perennial bushes around your house?  Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are obvious choices, or you could get creative and try gooseberries, elderberries, or currants (all are currently on my wish list).  I was surprised to learn that all of those are hardy to zone 3.  (The Twin Cities is just at the northern edge of zone 4.)  Wondering what zone you are?  Here’s a map.

The only thing I’m not willing to give up (yet) is my tulips.  I simply love them too much.


Pervious Concrete

Shoreview, a northern suburb of St. Paul, is adding a stretch of pervious concrete!  Exciting, no?  I am very curious to see how it works out.

Things that are cool about it:
1. Rainwater filters through soil underneath the concrete instead of rushing through a storm sewer and into our rivers and lakes (carrying salt, sand, and oil with it).  Theoretically, the soil filters out these impurities before the water reaches the groundwater level.
2. It saves the money of installing and maintaining a storm sewer.

Things that are decidedly not so cool:
1. Keeping the concrete’s pores open for optimum draining requires monthly vacuuming with a special air-brush streetsweeper, which apparently Shoreview is going to purchase.  That seems kinda high-maintenance, huh?

Anyway, as with so many “green” technologies, you gain some things and lose others.  It’s still a step in the right direction though and perhaps this research and development that Shoreview is participating in will lead to further innovation in this kind of technology.  So I say, excellent!

Read the story here.  (I’m not linking to merely to drive traffic, I honestly read it every single day even though I work there.)



My lovely friend Tracey got me a yogurt maker for my birthday about a month ago.  This is the one she got me.

I’d been wanting one for a while, since I overheard some people in line at the Co-op a few months ago raving about theirs.  Well I will go ahead and rave about mine now… it’s great!  We’re just finishing up our second batch of yogurt and I am amazed at how easy it is.  Adam would like to add: “Especially when your husband does it for you.”

The best part about it is this:  the per-ounce price is half that of regular yogurt.  We have been buying the big 32 oz. containers of either Stonyfield or Brown Cow yogurt for quite some time (Note: did you know they are one and the same company? Figures.) and we were going through 5 or 6 of them a month.  This got kinda spendy, and the other bummer about it is that Minneapolis does not recycle yogurt containers.  We keep saving them, hoping we’ll figure out something to do with them, but jeez, we have like 100 now!

Our yogurt maker came with 7 6-oz. glass jars that are re-useable.  There are two ways you can get the “culture” to make your milk into yogurt:

1) Use a 1/2 c. of commercial yogurt
2) Use some dried cultures that you can buy at some natural foods stores

The directions that came with the yogurt maker are pretty simple:


Bring 42 oz. of milk to a boil and boil 1 min.  Let cool until about room temp.  Apparently it is best to cool it quickly by setting your pot in a sinkful of cold water.  Stir in 1/2 c. commercial yogurt.  Ladle into the glass jars, insert into yogurt maker, and set the timer for 8-9 hours.


Then open up the yogurt maker, put on your lids, and move the containers into the fridge and chill for a while.  That’s it.  This will give you plain yogurt, which you can add fruit or honey to or just eat it plain if that’s your thing.  Here’s Adam adding a dollop to some dal for one of the kids:


So yeah, I still have to buy a small amount of commercial yogurt, until I get the nerve to try buying just the cultures.

The only confusing thing about the directions is that it said you can use 1/2 c. of your previous batch of yogurt instead of commercial, but to never do this more than one time.  (I.E., don’t keep on using your homemade stuff over and over.)  What is up with that?  Is that something that the yogurt maker manufacturer has to say for legal reasons, or does the culture somehow get watered down after a while?

The final cost breakdown:

32 oz. Brown Cow: $3.19
42 oz. homemade (with organic milk): $2.07

So the Brown Cow is $.10/oz and homemade is $.05/oz.  And I’m now a convert.  (OK, I’m easy to convert, it’s true.)

Update, 2 August 2009: several of my questions about culturing/fermenting foods were answered at a recent workshop that I attended.  Click here to read all about it.

Update, February 23, 2011: Cookus Interruptus, one of my favorite cooking blogs, has posted a really great, thorough recipe for yogurt that does not require a yogurt maker.  Check it out!  (Much better than my recipe, in my opinion.)


Garden update

Everything is sprouted!  Well, pretty much.  The soaker hoses are down, and we are ready to go into long-term maintenance and serious weed-pulling mode.  Here are each of my “double rows” or “guilds” in the the garden as they stand today, from east to west:

beansGreen bush beans.  They’re so fun to grow because they are easier than easy.  To the right is garlic mixed with weeds.

peas052209Peas.  Major, major disappointment.  Only about 4 of them came up.  The complex string system was supposed to be something for them to climb up.  I think I am going to fortify the string system a bit and then plant some pole beans this weekend, since I have plenty extra and they grow so fast.

brusselsBrussels sprouts.  The one in the far back to the right might not make it.  We had a very windy week and it completely laid down and won’t get back up.  Right now we have it tied to a stake in hopes that it will heal.  I also added some other “beneficial” plants to this spot:

1. A row of lettuce down the middle.  It is just starting to sprout and you can sorta see it here.  My theory here is that by the time the lettuce gets big enough to eat and the weather gets hot enough that it will bolt, the brussels will be so big that they will offer it some shade and give me some lettuce-eating in July.  WE’LL SEE.
2. Little clumps of green onions and little clumps of dill between the brussels sprouts plants.  These will help hold down weeds and just “fill in” until the brussels get big enough to take up this whole space.  And they will take it all up come August.


Last weekend I was looking at the lettuce and I realized… I’m going to have picked and eaten all this lettuce by early-mid July at the latest, and then I’ll have this huge open space with nothing in it.  What a waste!  So I plopped 6 pepper plants down the middle.  4 sweet banana peppers and 2 anaheim peppers that I picked up at a nearby nursery.

radishesparsnipsRadishes/parsnips.  Planted the right side row in mid-April and am now ready to harvest the radishes!  I can see the parsnips coming up too in that row, so they’ve finally sprouted.  Row on the left was planted May 10 or so, so once I polish off all the radishes on the right, the row on the left should be ready to go.

tomatersTomatoes.  On the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the garden from the backyard.  Fingers are crossed on this right now because the spot is turning out to be a bit shadier than I had thought.  I also planted some parsley, basil, and a couple more radishes from seed just last weekend here.  (More “companion planting.”)

I skipped the onion area that is between the radishes/parsnips and the tomatoes because it is hopelessly weedy and embarassing.  I also skipped the very small cuke area because it’s just not very interesting.  It’s a wire cage with some very small cucumber plants in it.  Wow!

A lot of experimentation going on here; we’ll see where it all goes.  But check out these beauties (yeah, a couple of them are still a little small):


OH I ALMOST FORGOT!  My three sisters guilds!  I’ll do a separate post on them in a week or two since there’s not much to see right now.  We planted 3-4 (I can’t remember now, honestly, the exact number) of them at the back of the garden next to the window wells.  Stay tuned for an update on that next week.

Quick word on the soaker hoses:  LOVE THEM.  Especially since this is looking like it could be a dry year.  Our lawn is dying already.  Not that I care about the grass.

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Recipe: Strawberry popsicles

You might notice a running theme here as I add more recipes:  I absolutely love sweets.  And it looks like the kids are taking after me.  So, attempting to make healthy versions of dessert is a major occupation of my mind.  Adam came through today with these awesome homemade popsicles:

Strawberry Popsicles
2 c. fresh or frozen strawberries (about one bag of frozen, thawed out)
1 ripe banana
3/4 c. coconut milk (half a can)
1/4 c. agave nectar

Mix everything together in a blender or food processor and pour into 12 popsicle molds, depending on the size of your popsicle molds.  Ours are from Ikea and they are pretty small.  Freeze.

You could substitute pretty much any fruit you like, and you could also use sugar or honey instead of agave nectar.  We are trying out agave nectar as part of our ongoing efforts to cut back on sugar.  And what did our toughest critics think of this frozen concoction?


Happy campers all around!

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The deal with salt

My one or two loyal readers (thanks, sis) may remember a post I did a couple weeks ago about the Weston A. Price Foundation and the many, many things about their eating and nutrition advice that confused me.  One of their recommendations was:

Use only sea salt, preferably celtic sea salt.

I now have a better understanding of the “salt” issue thanks to two things:

1. Cookus Interruptus.  This hilarious video blog about cooking and food in general.  In particular, they have an informational video about salt.

2. A book that I just started reading that just might change the way I look at food, forever:  Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.  I don’t want to write up a full review of it until I finish it, so stay tuned.  (Clue: Sally Fallon is the President of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  See how this is all coming together?)

Basically, the deal with salt is:  natural sea salt contains traces of many different minerals including iodine, which humans must get a little of so we don’t get goiters (can’t type that without thinking of Seinfeld).  Table salt, or sodium chloride does not contain iodine.  Therefore, food processors add iodine to it, in order to help us out with our iodine requirements.  Aren’t they nice?

However, the problem is, the iodine makes the salt all yellow and clumpy, and “the American Consumer” [supposedly] needs their salt to be white and easily pourable.  So our friendly food processors bleach it and add things like non-caking agents to make it, well, non-caking.

What about Celtic sea salt that the WAPF people are so fond of?  Apparently that has a super-higher-than-average mineral content.  I am unable to find it at my local CO-OP and I imagine that it’s not exactly cheap.

What about kosher salt?  Adam and I have been using Kosher salt in cooking for a while, because it has a really nice texture.  According to Wikipedia, kosher salt is just like table salt, but does not have iodine or other additives, although some kosher salts apparently still have anti-caking agents added.  So if we keep exclusively using Kosher salt as we have been, we might get goiters?  We are going to switch.  Thank goodness for the educational value of Seinfeld.  Goiters are not something I want to mess with.

My next question is, how “green” is sea salt vs. table salt?   I don’t know if any table salt is produced in or near Minnesota (which would beat sea salt for shipping), but even if it was, there’s still all the bleaching and chemical additive production.  But how DO they harvest sea salt, anyway?  Anyone want to weigh in?  Stay tuned…

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Two things

1. FRESH: Another movie, similar to Food, Inc. but a bit more optimistic.  I’m such a sap that I got tears in my eyes watching the trailer.  There’s going to be a screening in Minneapolis June 2.

2. I was listening to The Splendid Table again and Lynn R-C talked to a guy from the Environmental Working Group, who talked about pesticides on produce.  The interesting thing that he noted was that these tests are performed after produce has been washed (and cooked, where applicable).  Here’s the full list.

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Recipe: Danged Quesadillas

This is my very own healthier version of one of my favorite Mexican treats, and it’s super fast and easy.  Perfect!

Danged Quesadillas
4 sprouted-grain or whole grain tortillas (burrito size)
About 2 c. black, pinto, or really just about any beans, cooked & drained
2 T. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
Generous pinches of: chili powder, cumin
1/2 c. cheese, shredded (cheddar, mozarella, etc.)
Generous handful of raw spinach leaves (or frozen ones, thawed and drained)

Preheat oven to 375.

Put the beans, olive oil, garlic, chili powder, and cumin in a bowl and mash with a potato masher until they look kinda like refried beans.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the bean mixture on two of the tortillas.  Next spread a layer of spinach leaves.  Then sprinkle the cheese and the salsa.

quesadilla1Top with the remaining tortillas and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.  If you bake them directly on the rack they are a little tricky to get in and out of the oven, but they will be crispier.  Otherwise you could do them one at a time on a pizza pan.

quesadilla2Garnish with a little plain yogurt (full-fat will remind you much more of sour cream than lowfat will) and some fresh cilantro, if you like.  This serves two very hungry adults or two normal adults plus two toddlers.