Stacking Functions Garden


Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

It’s all starting. I planted my snow peas last weekend, but that was about it. I had to take time off work this week to stay home with my spring break kids, so I accomplished a lot in the garden. Today, I put in my onion starts—I buy them at Mother Earth Gardens. Yes, planting the thread-like baby onions is a little tedious, but on a glorious partly-cloudy 60 degree morning, well, I guess it depends on your level of tolerance. I was just happy to be out planting and it was soon done.

I also planted some radishes—they weren’t part of my garden plan for this year because for the last several years they’ve performed so dismally for me. But I was staring at the garden on Thursday (true story), and I realized that I have a month (at least) before I could plant tomatoes. Radishes are supposed to take around 30 days, so I decided to try them once again, but this time at least two weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted them before. They like cool, rainy weather, so fingers crossed that this time I’ll see radish success. I planted them precisely where I plan to plant tomatoes. Will this work? We’ll see.

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

Anneke and I also attempted some propagation this past month or two. Here are several branches I trimmed from our serviceberry. Adam is keen on adding all kinds of native shrubs to his family’s hunting land, for deer, turkeys, and other game animals to munch on. After starting this experiment, however, I read that in order to propagate shrubs like this you need to trim off an actual sucker with roots, not just a branch. More details on propagating serviceberries can be found here. I’m going to try starting some from seed this summer! So even though this was a fail, we learned and we are now attempting to propagate one sucker that I was able to find.

In other disappointing news, our Sabathani community garden is in trouble. Plans to build a new senior housing complex right next to it mean that, best-case scenario, our garden will be closed for an entire year starting this fall and re-opening in spring 2019. Worst-case scenario, the space will only be available on a very limited basis to residents of that complex. Everything is very much in flux right now and I won’t be able to move forward with my food forest idea for at least a couple of years, if ever. Maybe that’s OK though. I do take on more than I ought.

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

The first bloodroots of 2017 opened up in my yard today. Aren’t they sweet! That’s my thumbnail for size reference. They do sometimes get bigger than this, but not much. I will be interested to see if I can spot any pollinators on them. I’ve seen a couple wasps and quite a few boxelder bugs flying around, but that’s it so far.

Red Lake Currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

Ben Sarek black currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

As of today, my Red Lake currant bushes (one of them pictured, top) are barely doing anything while my Ben Sarek black currant bush (pictured, bottom) is almost leafed out. It’s fascinating how different varieties of the same plant will behave.

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been eating soil sprouts all winter long, and I really don’t see any reason to stop growing them now that spring is here. I want to try mixing things up, and growing 5 trays of pea shoots, for example, and stir frying them. I really enjoy doing this and highly recommend the book—Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Pictured are some radish sprouts; we used them as a topping on black bean and sausage soup.

What’s happening in your garden so far? I can’t remember ever getting going as early as I have this year, partially due to having such a mild winter.

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Signs of life

School bean plant gone crazy!Wonders never cease. Rowan brought home a kidney bean plant he’d started in a styrofoam cup at school. We re-potted it a few weeks ago, expecting it to die at any time. It flowered; I told him not to expect beans. IT GOT BEANS. Did our cat pollinate this thing? My best guess is that I brushed the flowers several times while opening and shutting the curtains and that must have been enough.

Playing by Minnehaha CreekCan you find two faces in this picture? I stayed home with the kids on Thursday, and before the snowstorm hit they spent some quality time in their tree stump fort by Minnehaha Creek. Who says city kids don’t get out in nature? This is only 4 blocks from our house!

Venison jerkyWe truly still have a ridiculous amount of venison left, so today Adam tried venison jerky. We used this recipe, minus the liquid smoke, and will again. This batch, from the buck he got on bowhunting opener, was delicious. I’m curious to see if jerky will make the doe that he got later in the season taste better. Everything we’ve made from the doe has been (to my palate) overly gamey, and we’ve tried A LOT of different things. So, we’ll see if jerky can kill the gamey flavor.

PieThe co-op has had frozen fruit on sale quite often lately, so we got treated to a mixed berry pie this weekend. I often wish Adam was on permanent spring break.

happyfrogThe tank was finally thawed out enough today to plant lettuce, yippee! We applied a nice layer of Happy Frog soil conditioner—this stuff is magical and the kids loved putting their hands in bat guano. We pick it up, like most of our gardening supplies, at Mother Earth Gardens.

Lettuce planted for Spring 2014!The kids helped me sow arugula, cilantro, kale, bull’s blood beets, and more lettuce seeds around the seedlings we put in today. We were all so excited to be out there working, we ended up stripping down to t-shirts. (Yes, t-shirts in the snow, that’s how we roll in Minnesota.) Of course I had to put the hoop house back on the tank for now, but the temperature is not supposed to dip below freezing for a few nights so these should settle in quite nicely.

Garden season is heating up in a major way. I got my Friends School Plant Sale catalog last week and the kids and I have been circling plants we want to try. I am SO impressed by their commitment to only offering plants that are neonicotinoid-free. I’m also teaching the first Spanish Gardening Class of the year at Sabathani community center next weekend. HERE WE GO!


Waste Not

It’s been a busy month since my last post. I’d like to say it’s all been joyous merrymaking, but, well I’m not going to bore you with the details. Suffice to say: strikes and gutters.

Christmas tree branches as mulchI took out our Christmas tree this week, and Adam cut off all the branches. I put them along the bottom of this fence, which we put up in October in hopes of defending my raspberries from rabbits. I didn’t spring for chicken wire because this stuff was cheaper, and those holes are really small. However, the varmints are getting in. I watched one hop right through the fence Friday night, to feast on my precious canes.

There’s actually not a whole lot I can do at this point except hope that my Christmas tree branch blockade will at least confuse them while Adam prepares for some very local rabbit hunting. He’s set up a little food stand in one part of the yard to bait them. We’ll see how it goes.

Christmas tree firewoodInstead of hauling the newly-bare Christmas tree trunk out to the alley, Adam sawed it into a few pieces and threw it on the wood pile. We’re currently heading a into record cold snap, which, by the way, is not all bad! Apparently there’s a good chance of emerald ash borer die-off. Silver lining, right?

Homemade suet for birdsWe still have just over half the pork fat left from two hogs my family purchased this fall. So Adam used the last of an old bag of bird seed and made some suet. The squirrels have been sniffing very curiously at this but so far I haven’t seen any birds on it. I’ve hardly seen any birds around AT ALL, though, so perhaps it will take a few days for them to discover it.

Venison sausageAdam’s making venison sausage on a regular basis now—and we still haven’t gotten through our store of ground venison or pork fat. I’m anxious to try this new one, which included Gamle Ode “Holiday” Aquavit. We gave some away to family and friends, so we went through our initial batches quickly.

Swiffer with chenille clothFor several months now, we’ve been using this chenille cleaning cloth on our swiffer sweeper, instead of buying the cloths. Take it outside and shake it out a few times while cleaning, then throw it in the wash when done. As far as I can tell it works the same. One less thing to buy, check!

Orange cleanerI’m also trying this suggestion for citrus-infused cleaning vinegar. I’m guessing a little of the orange oil gets into the vinegar too, which would make it ideal for cleaning our wood floors. On the left, some peels that we’re drying for adding to herbal tea.

KnittingFinally, I received a bag of yarn from Adam’s grandma who died almost three years ago, and am using it to teach Anneke to knit. (Rowan’s not interested, for now.) She picked it up really quickly, and I like to imagine how happy it would make Grandma Miller to see her great-granddaughter using up her old yarn.

Anyway, there’s a handful of positive developments around here. Happy New Year!


Venison sausage

This fall, his second year of bowhunting, Adam got a small buck and a doe. We’ve been itching to try our hands at sausage-making for a long time, so we borrowed the scary-looking family heirloom equipment from Adam’s parents and got to it.

I’m not going to re-post the recipe, because we used this one verbatim for our first batches. For the second, third, and yes FOURTH batches, we varied the herbs but not the basic ratio: 4 lbs of ground venison and one lb of pork fat. The only thing we omitted was the Instacure (pink salt) after being assured by the Seward Co-op meat guys (they were very patient with me and my questions) that it was unnecessary.

A pound of pork fatYes, that is a pound of pork fat. The same week Adam got his first deer, my family split up all the meat from two hogs which my dad had purchased for us. Nobody else wanted any of the fat so I got all the fat from both animals. Seriously, we have a ton of pork fat in our freezer, so if you live in Minneapolis and want some, I’m happy to share. We had the butcher grind up the fat for us, so it’s super easy to use.

Local ginThe recipe calls for gin, so we found this locally-produced one and it was fantastic. We had no trouble finishing off that bottle in the following days.

Mixing sausage ingredientsWe got quite a few packages of ground venison trimmings from the guy who cut up Adam’s deer for him, so the grinding part was done, which made the process faster. Mixing it all up took a little practice. The amount was really too much for our mixer (imagine pork fat chunks and chunks of raw venison hitting the walls of the kitchen). So we mixed it by hand. Because everything needs to be ICE COLD, mixing it with your hands kinda hurts! But Adam powered through.

Tasting the sausageNext, fry up a little patty and sample it. Delicious.

Stuffing sausagesNow it was time to load Ye Olde Sausage Stuffer, with the casings (from Seward Co-op) and start making some sausage! The kids were fascinated and impressed. I was horrified and amused.

Making the linksAfter stuffing you twist the long sausage into individual links.

Hanging the sausages overnightFinally, you hang it to dry in a refrigerator overnight. We were lucky that our small basement refrigerator came with this wine rack built right in. We’ve never used it for wine but it works great for this!

The next day, we wrapped up packages of four links in butcher paper and froze them. We gave some to family, and have eaten plenty too. It’s delicious!

I have the book Charcuterie by Mark Ruhlman from the library right now, and it has some different venison sausage recipes that I would also like to try. Rather than pork fat, Ruhlman uses a ratio of 3 lbs ground venison to 2 lbs ground pork meat. He also hot-smokes his sausages, a process which intimidates me a little bit, honestly.

On the other hand, we’ll probably also make several more batches with this recipe, because what else are we going to do with all this pork fat? Any favorite venison sausage recipes you’d like to share?


Season of bounty

Late summer inner city vegetable garden, via The New Home EconomicsWe are in the thick of harvest season, which is going to come to an abrupt end in too short of a time. A sampling of what’s going on:

Pumpkins and white acorn squash, via The New Home EconomicsMy best friend and I harvested most of our pie pumpkins from our community garden plot at Sabathani Community Center. Aren’t they cute? We only got 4 of these little white acorn squashes, and we have so far gotten zero butternut squashes. The butternuts looked yellow and unenthusiastic for most of the summer, then suddenly in the last couple weeks got really big and bushy as the pumpkin and acorn squash plants started to die down. They now have tiny butternut squashes on them, but I’m not hopeful they’ll have time to get big before we get a freeze. Only time will tell! In the meantime, I’ll be baking up some of these guys.

Blue Lake bush beans, via The New Home EconomicsMy Blue Lake bush beans are still producing, even as the plants are starting to look rather shabby. We’ve found this variety to be extremely prolific, though maybe slightly less tasty than the haricot verts we grew last year.

Tomato harvesting, via The New Home EconomicsWe ended up with a great tomato year, despite the late start. We’ve been eating all the fresh tomatoes we can hold and even made a batch of roasted tomatoes, which we froze in half pints for pizza sauce starters this winter.

Picking hops flowers, via The New Home EconomicsWe also harvested 3 gallon-size bags of hops flowers yesterday, and promptly made a batch of beer with them. Can’t wait to taste it!

Parsley, via The New Home EconomicsI’ve also been picking lots of herbs for drying; I’ve got several quart-size jars full of various herbal tea plants. Dried parsley is not nearly as wonderful as fresh, but it’s still nice to have on hand in the dead of winter.

Early sunflower, via The New Home EconomicsOver in my brand-new boulevard butterfly garden, my early sunflowers are prolific bloomers already in their first year! Love them.

Little bluestem in a boulevard prairie garden, via The New Home EconomicsThis grouping of Little Bluestem also performed spectacularly for its first year.

Checking deer stands and cameras, via The New Home EconomicsI also went out with Adam and his dad in central MN this weekend to check their trail cameras; bow hunting fever has hit full force (the season opens 9/14). I was mostly along for goldenrod picking, but I’m also excited at the prospect of processing part or maybe all of a deer. We’ll see if he gets one or not.

One morning's picking, via The New Home EconomicsThe fruits of my labor day morning gardening. Not too shabby. What’s happening in your garden?

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Recipe: Wild turkey masala

My dad went hunting this weekend.  One long hunting story later, he had an extra turkey.  My uncle Don, who is a taxidermist, plans to mount it, but didn’t want the meat.  He saved the meat for us, and we made this most wonderful dish with it tonight.  (Is this is the most redneck post I’ve ever written?)

Wild turkey masala
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions (original recipe called for quail)

2-3 good-sized pieces of wild turkey, such as breast
1 c. plain yogurt
1 med. onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1-2 cardamom pods, crushed
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sea salt

1. My uncle soaked the turkey meat in a salt brine overnight after cleaning the bird, but I don’t know that it’s totally necessary to do that.  At any rate, start with thawed meat.

2. Combine the yogurt and all the spices in a gallon-size bag.  Add the meat.  Marinate for 12-24 hours.  We marinated ours for nearly 24 hours.

3. If you are using a boneless piece, such as the breast, pound it so that it reaches uniform thickness.

4. Remove meat from marinade and fry in a couple tablespoons of coconut oil, butter, ghee, or some combination thereof over low-med. heat, with the cover on.  Length of time depends on what pieces you’re using.  We did breasts that had been pounded to about 3/4 in. thick, so they only needed to cook about 5 minutes on each side.

Adam didn’t pour any marinade into the pan, but he didn’t rinse the meat off either.

These turned out great.  They didn’t taste gamey at all, just moist and delicately spiced.  Someone with a very midwestern palate might call them a little bit spicy.  We served them with oven fries.

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Recipe: proscuitto-topped pheasant stuffed with millet and parmesan

This is definitely the most highfalutin recipe Adam has ever come up with.  Here’s what you’ll need, for 4 people:

Proscuitto-topped pheasant stuffed with millet and parmesan
4 pheasant breasts (we did 2 breasts + 2 thighs and gave the thighs to the kids)
1/2 – 3/4 c. cooked millet
2 T. olive oil
4 T. butter
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
4 slices proscuitto
salt & pepper

1. Cook millet in water, remove from heat, and reserve.

2. Pound pheasant breasts flat between two pieces of plastic wrap, using a wooden meat mallet or rolling pin.

3. For each breast, peel back top layer of plastic wrap, and sprinkle on salt and pepper.  Top with about 2 T. millet, then 2 tiny pats of butter, then about 1 T. parsley.  Cover with grated parmesan and top with a slice of proscuitto.  Leave covered in plastic wrap while you finish the others.

4. In a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 T. butter combine with 1 T. olive oil.  When the skillet is hot, carefully peel the plastic wrap from the bottom and, holding it by the top layer of plastic wrap, carefully drop it into the pan, pheasant side down.  Then quickly peel the top layer of plastic wrap from the proscuitto.  (This helps to hold it together.)  Fry for about 2-3 minutes.

5.  Carefully flip it over.  Some of the inside stuff may fall out, but just push it back in.  Cook on the proscuitto side for 1-2 minutes, then remove from pan.  Serve it proscuitto-side up, garnished with a little bit of parsley.  These are a little bit tricky, so it’s better to do them one at a time and keep first ones warm in the oven while you cook the rest.

The picture really doesn’t do this justice.  It was so good I almost cried.  Adam got his inspiration from a video of Jamie Oliver & Mark Bittman doing something similar to this with chicken breasts.  So really, you could substitute chicken or duck or some other game bird for the pheasant in this.  Adam also wants me to note that you could do all kinds of different substitutions, such as: whatever herb you like in place of parsley, or different kinds of grains (like wild rice, or quinoa).

We served it with roasted potatoes, but it is quite rich, so next time I think we’ll just do a green salad on the side.

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Recipe: beer-braised venison medallions

Here is a recipe that Adam invented.  It would likely work well with any type of red meat — even tougher cuts, since you braise the meat for a while.  He used a loin venison steak.

Beer-braised venison medallions with beet greens & brown rice
Feeds 3-4
Venison – about 1 lb.
Juice of 1 orange (could sub. lemon)
1 med. onion, sliced thinly
1-2 T. butter
1-2 T. olive oil
1 c. beer
1/2 c. beef stock
1 tsp. dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
2 bunches beet greens
1 c. brown rice

1. Cut meat into 1 in. cubes.  Marinate in orange juice for a good 1/2 hour at least (up to 2 hours).

2. Put the brown rice and 2 c. water in a small pot and cook over med. heat until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the water is absorbed.  Should be done at relatively the same time, if you start it at the same time that you start cooking the meat.

3. Heat butter and olive oil in a large frying pan or wok over med heat until butter is melted.  Add meat with its marinade juices and the onion, and cook until the meat is browned on the outside, about 5 min.

4. Add beer, beef stock, thyme, salt & pepper and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer, covered, until most of the liquid is gone, about 30 minutes.  Do not stir.

5. Meanwhile, wash the beet greens (sub. any dark leafy green like kale or chard if you like).  Put an inch or two of water and 1 tsp. salt in the bottom of a pot, add the greens, and cook over med.-high heat, covered, until greens are completely wilted.  About 15-20 minutes total.

To serve, place a small amount of rice on the plate.  Top with a spoonful of greens, then meat and some of its juices.  Our onions got all caramelized and this was really delicious.


Recipe: venison pot pie

Adam’s brother Nigel got a deer last weekend, and gave us a really nice piece of venison.  Here’s what we made (this is adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook):

Venison Pot Pie
1 pound lean boneless venison
2 T. oil
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup carrots, cubed
1 cup turnips, cubed
1/3 + 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp shortening or butter
1/3 cup milk

1. Cut meat into small cubes (about 1/2 in.) and brown in hot oil.

2. Add 2 c. stock, thyme, and a bit of pepper.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add vegetables and simmer, another 15-30 minutes.

3. Stir together 1/2 c. stock and 1/3 c. flour and stir into meat/vegetable mixture.  Cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Pour into a casserole dish.

4. While your stuff is simmering, make the biscuits.  Stir together 3/4 c. flour, baking powder, sugar, and a good pinch of salt.  Cut in shortening or butter until it looks crumbly.  Add milk and stir just a bit.  Drop a couple handfuls on top of the meat/vegetable mixture in the casserole.  Bake at 450 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until the biscuits get all golden.

Serves 5-6 people

Here’s a picture of it in the pot.  Adam used our enameled cast iron dutch oven for the entire process.  That thing is awesome!

Variations:  you could substitute any root vegetable for the carrots and potatoes, and/or green beans instead of peas.