Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dilled Carrots

Last Sunday  we started our second part of our pickle mania marathon. Operation dilled carrots and pickled beets.

The carrots are such a treat during the winter months since they have a light brine and the sweetness of carrots.

Luckily I forgot the sheer amount of work involved in peeling and chopping the carrots from last year.

It took just over two hours to peel and chop the 25 pounds into sticks to fit into the jars.

There were several pounds of "dividend" carrots that were too small to cut into sticks that I cut into medallions.

With the majority of the sticks we created dilled carrots with garlic, fresh dill and brine from a recipe from the Ball Home Preserving Book.

A quick note on the brine - when we made the brine we initally found that the amount of salt that the recipe called for was WAY too over powering and so used half of the salt called for and a tiny bit of sugar to soften it.

Once we had the taste of the brine squared away it was pickling time!

This recipe is cold packed meaning that you put the spices and the carrots into the jars and then add the brine. The trick with carrots (and many other vegetables is to get enough of them into the jars so that they don't float willy-nilly in the jar - once packed firm they tend to stay put better.

Mark also tried a two recipe variations with some of the sticks that we hope will be interesting. Stay is the gist:
  1. Chinese inspired with ginger, star anise and Chinese chiles.
  2. Carribean with ginger, garlic, bay, habanero, all spice and yellow mustard seed.
All told we ended up with about 30 pint jars of pickled carrots.

While processing and pickling the carrots we roasted the beets for 2 hours and then late in the day set about peeling them. We ended up getting half way through before deciding that they would have to wait on another day.

More on that in another post...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pickle mania!

Saturday, September 17th,  I stopped by the Big Red Barn on the way back from volunteering at an event and went a little crazy with my canning purchases. 

(The Barn is located on 148th and Airport Way in Portland, OR and I have found that it is a good place to purchase things in bulk.)

Anyway, I got there just before 3 p.m. and decided that it was a good idea to purchase 15 lbs of green beans and 25 lbs each of carrots, cucumbers and beets. All told, it was less than $75 - how could I go wrong?

Saturday evening I sliced and salted just over half of the cucumbers - I had a little help from our neighbor Leah who was over for dinner.

 Sunday, I prepared three types of cucumber pickles:
  1. Lemongrass cucumber pickle - We made these last year, and while they were good, Mark and I both felt that they were a little lacking in the lemongrass department. This year, I steeped the bruised lemongrass a bit longer in the brine and made sure that the stalks that went into the jars were a bit more substantial.

    I consulted several similar pickle recipes and decided to forego cooking the cucumbers in brine and then packing them hot into the jars. My hope is that they will hold their crispy-ness better, and I think that packing them while cool is so much easier.

    We also opted to experiment a little be by adding one segment of a kaffir lime leaf and a chili pepper to half of the jars. I had also made homemade ginger syrup for ginger ale that morning, so I added a couple of table spoons to two jars too. We are excited to see how our tinkering worked in a couple of weeks.

  2. Spicy bread and butter - I love bread and butter pickles. For me, they are not your every day pickle, but when the mood strikes I can sit down and eat a whole jar. Mark is not so into sweet flavors, so I opted for the spicy variety which seem to fit his needs too.

  3. Quick dills - I chose this recipe because I wanted a quick recipe to use up all my remaining dills. I chose to do this recipe last and knew an easy, no-fuss recipe would be what I needed at that point in the day.

    I had separated out all of the small cucumbers on Saturday, so I was able to fit quite a few into each quart-sized jar.
I thought that the whole process would take an ungodly amount of time, and had visions of me pickling into the wee hours Sunday night.

Interestingly enough, the whole pickling adventure lasted from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. including about a half hour for lunch. I attribute this to good planning, especially having all of the ingredients and jars on-hand.

Zydeco Beans!
I started pickling the beans on Wednesday evening the following week.

While I was excited by the outcome, it was a bit overwhelming to do it after working all day.. Two evenings later I was done.

We canned the carrots and beets this past weekend and week (more after work time I will not let my eyes be bigger than what I can actually accomplish without canning till 10 ish on a work night - lesson definitely learned!)

More on beets and carrots later!

Friday, September 16, 2011


I have a confession -  I am terrible at growing zucchini.

Yep, the one plant that takes over everyone else's garden and is so prolific that they are practically begging friends, neighbors and co-workers to take off their hands.

Not ours. Our plants have been known to shrivel up, rot or put out a measly one or two fruits.

How frustrating! I successfully grow more finicky plants from seed year after year. Aren't zucchini supposed to be the plant that practically grows itself? 

And, to make matters worse, despite their being prolifically available during the summer, they are often relatively expensive to purchase.
The one that got away...
This year we've had moderate success with our bush baby variety from Territorial Seed Company - about 10 zucchini thus far with a few more coming on as I write this. Hummm...Maybe we boldly try two plants next year.

For the most part, we have harvested the fruit when fairly small - about 4-8 inches long. But, there was one that did get away from us while we were on vacation (see above).

Rather than despair at its girth or create a squishy stuffed squash recipe, we decided to shred it for zucchini bread.That way we will have a refreshing little bit of summer later on this fall or winter.

Fresh herbs when we want them
On a similar note, we had a crazy amount of oregano and basil in the garden this summer. Since we like to use both for salad dressings and marinades throughout the year, we froze bags of both for use this winter and next spring.

To do this, I washed the herbs and then separated the leaves from the stems. Then I  whizzed them up in the Cuisinart, adding a tiny bit of olive oil so that each had a paste-like consistency. Next I placed each herb in its own freezer Ziploc bag, flattened the contents, labeled and dated the bags and placed them in the freezer.

The whole process took less than a half hour, and now we have fresh herbs from the garden to use throughout the winter!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fairfax Pickles, Spiced Blueberry Relish and Cornichons

Last weekend was a marathon canning session yielding about 140 half pint jars - 107 of Fairfax pickles, 20 of spiced blueberry relish and 12 of cornichons.

I spent the better part of both Saturday and Sunday with Michael Madigan working in his commercial kitchen space called KitchenCru - this is where Mark's business Tails & Trotters creates a lot of their products like bacon, pate and marinades.

Fairfax Pickles
These pickles have been in my mom's family for three generations and according to family lore my grandmother's neighbor received the recipe directly from Lord Fairfax. I remember enjoying them as a child and first made them with my grandmother while visiting her in Maryland.

Each year, while everyone else complains at the sight of green tomatoes at the close of summer I look at them with excitement - it will be a Fairfax pickle year!

Day 1
Michael and I chopped and salted 40 pounds of green tomatoes, about 10 pounds of yellow onions and around 24 red peppers.

The purpose of the salt is to pull juices from the veggies - you do this by drizzling it on each layer of vegetables and then leave it overnight covered at room temperature.

Day 2

Michael creating the brine.
On Sunday we drained the liquid from the vegetables and set them aside while we made the brine.

We made the brine in two VERY large pots. Once it came to a boil we added the vegetables and let the whole mixture come almost to a boil.

Then we poured the whole concoction into the largest pot I have ever seen (see first photo above). The purpose of this was to make sure that the pickles and brine were consistent throughout the batch.

Next came the jarring of the pickles.

While the prep time on Saturday was the same as it would be in a residential kitchen, the actual canning process was amazingly quick thanks to the the gear in the commercial kitchen - all 107 half pint jars into the bath at the same time!

Spiced Blueberry Relish

The thing that I like best about this recipe is its versatility -  it goes great with vanilla ice cream and with roasted meat. Most notably, it is fabulous with ham as we discovered on Easter. We got this recipe from Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling book (she also has an interesting blog - A Gardener's Table.


These are our experiment of the weekend since we have not yet tried this recipe. The brine consisted mostly of vinegar, so I presume that the flavors of the bay leaf, peppercorns, shallot and tarragon sprig will imbue the pickles with their flavors over time.
The cucumbers took forever to wash - about an hour for three pounds. I think that the next time we make them we will get a less spiny variety of pickling cucumbers

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let the pickling begin!

Bonny presented me with 2 fairly large Tromboncino squash - much to much to eat fresh.

So, we grilled up a bit with our dinner and made refrigerator pickles with the rest.

I made 2 types of quick pickles- a Thai influenced variety and a more classic Eastern European style. The Thai had more of a sweet, spicy flavor and the classic was more of the salty, savory variety.

I didn't really follow any recipes (though there are a ton out there), but just winged and they came out pretty good!

The key is to taste your quick brine before adding your items to be pickled. If the brine tastes good, then so should the pickles!

Here are the parameters for both kinds (make enough brine to cover your  pickling items):

  • rice vinegar
  • water (about equal amounts of both liquids)
  • ginger
  • kaffir lime leaves
  • smashed garlic
  • dried chiles
  • palm sugar (though plain white will do)
  • salt
  • black peppercorns
Classic European style:
  • apple cider vinegar
  • water (about equal amounts of both liquids)
  • pickling spice (allspice, mustard seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, black peppercorns, cumin, dill seed)
  • salt (more than the Thai)
  • pinch sugar
  • dried chiles
Bring all ingredients to a boil and then let simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Pack vegetables into clean sterilized jars and pour over brine to cover. Cool and refrigerate.

They are ready to eat in an hour or so, and get better with time. You should eat them in a week or two - if they last that long.

I also added a few sliced carrots and a kohlrabi as I found them lurking in the bottom of the fridge.


Monday, August 29, 2011

The hungry caterpillar

Mark and I just spent a week with family in Estes Park, Colorado and while this post may not have a direct connection to gardening it is (in part) the reason I have been away from the garden and the blog.

My July weekends were mostly dedicated to creating a quilt for our new cousin Asher that features fabric from Erik Carl's "The Hungry Caterpiller." A special thank you to mom for hooking me up with most of the fabric!

Here is the front:

And the back:

We came back to a well maintained garden thanks to my giving everything a good soak before leaving and our dear neighbor Andrea watching out for those plants that needed watering while we were gone. More on this later on this week...

We were greeted by two ripened tomatoes, two zucchini, and two tromboncino squash upon our return - hopefully with more to come in the next couple of months!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Catching up - Pealicious!

I have been remiss in posting lately, but promise to get back on the band wagon with the goal of posting once a week.

To catch you up, here is some info on the pea experiment

Well, as it turns out I went out of town during the height of our pea harvest.

Fortunately, our neighbors helped us enjoy the bounty and there were enough for us to enjoy some too.Unfortunately we came back to many pods that were past their prime. Who knew months ago that mid-July would be prime pea harvesting time?

The majority of the peas that we enjoyed mid-July went into salads. We blanched the peas for both - a quick dip in boiling water to preserve their color and stop the sugars from converting to starches - and then created a dressing of minced shallot, finely chopped mint, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Yum!

I learned a few lessons about cultivating peas this year -
  • Five varieties may be too many. Next year I think that we will grow fewer varieties of peas and perhaps less of them.

  • As it turned out, the golden snow peas weren't as interesting to eat as I anticipated, though this could be the quality of soil where they were planted. I may try them one more time...

  • I am still not quite sure how we were to use the purple soup peas, but am sure that if we grow them again it will only be for their amazing  purple flowers and pods! Perhaps a pea teepee out front?

  • You can't count that they will be ready when you want them to be, so watch what you plant underneath or near by to them. I had tomato starts between the rows of peas in both of the troughs with the plan that as the peas phased out in June the tomato starts would have room and the light they need to come in. With the peas lasting through mid-July they definitely stunted the tomato starts initially.

  • The chicken wire trellises worked well for the peas. The thing I like best about these is that I can roll the whole thing up at the end of the season and it won't take up much room in my garage. I should note though that the purple peas were supposed to be about 6 feet but ended up far taller than that. As a result, they tumbled over the top of the trellis and cascaded nearly to the ground.

Next up ...Favas!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Waterwise Gardening Interview

This morning I was interviewed on KATU's AM Northwest Show about tips on designing and maintaining a water wise garden. Though the camera doesn't do the colors and textures justice, here is a peek at what is going on our garden right now.

Interested in learning more about incorporating water wise practices into your garden?

Check out the Regional Water Provider's Consortium's website where you can find all sorts of water conserving resources.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Last year I read about growing potatoes vertically in one of the gardening magazines I subscribe to and ever since then I have been obsessed with the idea!

While in Seattle in April, I came across a nonprofit selling used burlap sacks that were originally used by local coffee roasters to transport their beans. I bought three and two of which are now at home on our driveway with potatoes growing in them.

Apparently I was too late to purchase seed potatoes this year, but we had a few varieties of organic potatoes that had begun to sprout so we chopped them up and planted them.

As far as I can tell, you plant them in about six inches of soil, let them grow about six inches, cover them with dirt and repeat. Once the bag is full and the plants begin to flower you are ready to harvest.

We won't know how successful this experiment is until the end of the season, but I will continue to document the progress and success/failures along the way.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It may be June(uary), but the salad days are here anyway!

The cooler weather may have the rest of us in the Portland area grumbling, but the greens in our garden have, for the most part, been happy with it.

Here is what we have (or had) going thus far:

Spinach - With the other night's dinner (pasta, fish spinach and lemon juice), we've had five batches this spring!

I planted one patch of about 10 plants every two to three weeks. This helped us keep up with these prolific plants - just as we harvested on batch another was being planted.

Mark incorporated the spinach into several soups and stir fry dishes (more to come on this in a future post).

The variety we selected has enormous leaves and no gritty metallic after taste.  A definite keeper!

Lettuce - We have four types of lettuce growing right now. One of the things I love about lettuce is that you can tuck it in between plants and it is ready to harvest about the time that its neighbors need a little more room.

My favorite short season variety is a butterhead called Tom Thumb which matures in about 30 days and is about the size of a softball.

I've also staggered my lettuce plantings every couple of weeks so we should have lettuce throughout the summer.  Looks like the salad days are here indeed!


Pak Choy - Sadly the variable temperatures we've been having have wreaked havoc on the pak choy. Over the weekend I noticed that it had definitely bolted, but for now I am leaving them in since the bright yellow flowers are attracting pollinators. I think that we will retry pak choy in the fall.

Chard - I have chard planted in several smaller pots along the base of the troughs and in an old wooden fruit delivery box.

The plants are coming along nicely despite the occasional leaf attacked by leaf miners. Right now my defense is comprised of plucking the affected leaves - anyone know another way to deal naturally with these pests?

Lacinto kale - I also have kale planted in smaller pots along the base of the troughs.

The cabbage moths have been busy laying eggs which hatch into voracious lime green caterpillars.

I have been removing eggs and caterpillars from the leaves diligently each night, but it seems that the caterpillars are having a field day eating the young leaves.  

The caterpillars have been really active on the purple cabbage as well, but the garlic I interplanted with the Veronica broccoli seems to be holding them at bay in that section of the garden. If only they chose a couple of plants and left the rest to us! 

My latest addition is purslane which is a perennial that you can add to salads and sandwiches. Yum!

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    The Pea Experiment Continues - Too Much of a Good Thing?

    It is hard to believe that we are in mid-June and the peas are just starting to come in!

    Later this week or next the onslaught will begin. In retrospect, 37 feet of peas may be too much for us and our urban Portland, OR plot to handle.

    In the mean time, I have Mark on the look out for all meals that incorporate peas - shelling, snow, snap and soup.

    Not sure how the soup peas differ from shelling, but in truth I bought them for their purple pods and  the contrast they would bring to the patch - if they taste good, even better.

    The fava beans are also flowering so they should follow shortly.

    If you have any favorite pea or fava bean recipes please share them with us!

    Too much of a good thing? The jury is still out - ask us in a couple of weeks.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Gifts from the Wild- Spring Inspired Meals

    It's good to have friends- especially friends who forage and fish. This past week has seen a few local spring delicacies bestowed upon us to inspire our kitchen creativity. The gifts from the wild were fresh caught salmon and Morel mushrooms. Both were so absolutely pristine and at the peak of their season that we really didn't want to fuss with them too much on the journey from the wild to our pots and finally our plates.

    For dinner Wednesday night the salmon was lightly dusted with a spice mix similar to Old Bay, then sauteed until lightly browned on top and the skin crispy underneath. Cooking it until medium-done left it so tender and moist... yum. We served the fillets on a bed of braised Savoy cabbage topped with a scattering of sauteed Morels. The mushrooms were cooked in butter with a little shallot, thyme and a splash of Marsala wine.

    We used the leftover Morels for breakfast this morning. Scrambled eggs with sauteed Morels in butter topped with Tails & Trotters pancetta-wrapped local asparagus. Served on toast and sprinkled with chive blossoms from Bonny's garden. All the flavors really shone through individually, yet worked so well together, almost like they had always known each other. The chive blossoms were the surprise star. Beautiful on the plate, but so tasty on the palate with their onion-garlicky savor.

    The local Spring bounty has provided us with a great start to a season of good eats. Thanks to the generosity of our friends and the green thumb of my wife. Can't wait to see and taste what crops up next...

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    A new discovery for me in Ptown

    I love having out of town guests visit because it gives me an opportunity to explore my home town with new eyes.

    I typically take visitors up to the International Rose test garden in spring to check out the rhododendrons.

    But, they were pretty closed up the weekend before, so I didn't want to risk disappointment.

    A friend suggested that we check out the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in SE Portland which I had driven by for years without knowing that it was there - what a pleasant surprise!

    My Aunt Joanie and I packed a picnic lunch and headed over to check it out. We were amazed by the variety of rhododendrons and azaleas to be sure, but the way that the other plants created interplay and contrast with them was a sight to see.

    Lighter and darker primroses planted at the base of a rhododendron mirrored the color combination of the shrub's blossoms.

    Wild, native yellow violets danced in the dappled shade (sadly, not pictured).

    I love how the bright colors of these azaleas contrasted with the maple behind them.

    With almost 9.5 acres, there is sure to be something interesting to gaze at through out the year. And, I think that it may be my new, in-town hot weather escape for kicking back with a good book in the shade.