lettuce

beets

Some of you have asked about growing lettuce. Once you start growing it yourself, you will see what a horrendous rip-off store-bought lettuce can be. Home-grown is crunchier, tastes better and the fancy/exotic “spring mix” type greens are just as easy to grow as a delicious head of butter lettuce. The big plus I’ve found is that you get what seems like 100% germination. It all comes up. The first batch takes about 50-60 days to fully mature. Then you just cut the leaves off (without pulling the roots) and it just grows back.

This year I’ve got “Tom Thumb” (big, green, almost spinach-y leaves), Buttercrunch (soft leaves, big tight, crunchy heads) and “French mix” which is a blend of differently colored and shaped greens including romaine and chicory. I’ve also got a row of arugula for spice. Last year I grew our lettuce in one of those wooden window boxes, set on the ground. This year, with the wider, raised beds, I’ve got even more. So…anyone out there with an avocado tree want to trade?

Squash blossoms with batter

I’ve always wanted to make fried squash blossoms and the moment was about an hour ago. I cut about seven from the garden and followed the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, which is astoundingly easy to get my head around. The way she writes and her recipes, that is. There aren’t many illustrations, but the few there are, are strategically placed. And I love how she numbers the steps in her recipes.

So the process is super simple — the batter is a pastella, the same as you’d use for fried squash, eggplant, etc. Just whisk flour into a bowl containing a cup of water until it is the consistency of sour cream. Add the flour in very small amounts to keep it smooth. I added a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour enough oil in a frying pan that it comes up 3/4 of an inch on the side. Heat the oil — get it very, very hot.

squash blossoms

Lightly, barely rinse off the blossoms in cold water and pat dry. Really, the less you touch them, the better.

Make a slit in the base of the flower on one side and gently flatten it, like you were butterflying a chicken breast.

NB: Check inside the flowers before using the knife. A honeybee buzzed from one of them just as I was getting ready to cut. Disaster averted. But the bee population being what it is, accidentally frying one would have been a serious downer.

Then drag the blossoms by the stem through the batter and drop into the very hot oil. Flip over when they start looking crispy — mine took about a minute or so. The batter will lightly brown.

Drain on a towel for a couple of minutes and serve immediately. They should be crisp on the outside, with a soft, fragile texture inside. The taste is really subtle and they’re pretty to look at.

fried squash blossoms

I love artichokes–baked, steamed, pickled, whatever. It’s difficult not to wonder how anyone figured out that you could pull off all that prickly armor and find something so delicious inside. Hats off to the first artichoke eater! I applaud your work!

Anyway, I’ve become very interested in growing our own. I’ve read that all of the chokes sold in the U.S. are grown in Cali and they are perennials so they supposedly will keep producing for years. They grow to 4-5 feet wide, too, so if it works out, they’ll fill out that empty spot out front where the agaves used to be. I bought five at the nursery and have grown 8 from seed — these will go into the ground in a few weeks. If anyone out there has experience growing artichokes, I welcome your tips.

That’s how it stands.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Here is the sole artichoke we’ve had so far. The biggest plant from the nursery already had a bud, which quickly grew fat enough to eat. Just added a couple garlic cloves and a bay leaf to the water, and steamed until the bottom leaves pulled off easily. Sauteed chopped garlic in butter for dipping and voila. Mmmmm.

It’s really happening. We’ve got our first squashes. The chard is thriving and I’ve found that homegrown arugula will spoil you for store bought forever. After last year’s meager harvest, I had no idea how successful the crops would be from the raised beds. It’s something wholly other. Here is the current situation, at left:

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA, readers. Under the weather would be an understatement. Last Monday, I came down with a little sore throat that turned into a full-blown head and chest cold Of the Ages. I’m still coughing — and thus, have been steering clear of my normal haunts: butter, cheese and cream.

All I have to blog about today,mes amis, is rose hip tea.

Last night we went to Tex’s to meet up before going out for Hugh’s birthday. Tex’s rose bushes, which were full last spring, were in need of some pruning and loaded with rose hips. I gathered them in a Trader Joe’s bag and brought home to conjure a curative tea. Tea that would make me well. Tea that would take me past this nightmare of grossness and coughing all day. Tea that would stop the embarrassment of being physically weak.

The thing is that rose hips have been used for many ages for their medicinal qualities. I’ve even heard that there are beauty potions you can make with them too. But the only thing I’ve ever done with them is to make tea (they’ve got significantly more vitamin C than oranges and other “phytonutrients” I guess.)

Anyway, here is how you do it. It’s really delicious sweetened but I like it straight.

Take about 15 rose hips. Rose hips, by the way, are the seed pods that form on your bushes if you don’t dead head the roses. Harvest them when they are deep orange or red. Now, with a sharp knife, cut the stems and the flower ends off of the rose hips and wash them well. Chop finely or, as I do, throw them in a food processor. I add 7-8 leaves of lemon verbena from the garden, but it’s not necessary. I always think that lemon zest or tangerine would be great with rose hips…let me know if you’ve done this and if it works.

Now, chop it all up and add to a pot (not aluminum. can’t say I know why. someone told me that it chemically messes with the tea) filled with 7 cups of distilled water. Bring almost to a boil, covered. It will be steaming.

Pour through a fine mesh sieve to strain the hips and seeds.

Drink sweetened with sugar or molassas or plain.

Can’t hurt.

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