Though there’s the tail-end of a nasty winter storm howling outside my window, my imagination has been deep in summer. I’ve been sowing seeds like crazy this week – the peppers that I’ll plant in May into my unheated greenhouse, the onions and other alliums, like leeks and shallots, that can go into the garden before the last frost is over, and flowers that need a long head start, like pansies, and those that need to spend some time in the refrigerator before planting, like delphinium.
I’ve even been out in my cold greenhouse planting seedlings I started in February, among them cold hardy lettuces such as Winter Marvel and Red Tinged Winter, the cool-loving spinaches, Tyee and Winter Bloomsdale, beautiful purple Kolibri kohlrabi and a lovely frilly mustard called Ruby Streaks.
Ruby Streaks Mustard with Other Greens
In February in the greenhouse, I direct-seeded Coral peas and Blue Pod Capucinjers, an heirloom soup pea that produces purple flowers rivaling sweet peas for beauty and perfume. I also sowed Easter Egg and French Breakfast radishes, Alpine daikon, Evergreen Hardy White scallions, among other things. Everything seems to be coming up now, except the scallions, but they can take some time to germinate.
March is the month when gardeners begin starting seeds inside and eating the last of the vegetables stored in their root cellars. They’re called “root” cellars for a reason, because roots, like carrots, rutabagas, storage radishes (such as daikon) and beets, are what keep there best.
This is because most root vegetables are designed for a winter of storage below ground. They’re biennials; that is, they live for two years. The first season, they turn out leaves above ground for photosynthesis, and large swollen tubers below ground in which to store energy for the following year. If left in place or replanted in spring, these tubers would send up flowers in their second year of growth, go to seed, and, having reproduced successfully, die.
At the end of the winter, stored root vegetables have a remarkable ability to tell that their second growing season is approaching. They sprout new leaves and use up their stored sugars, going limp and bitter. It’s time to use them up and seed in new plantings.
Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables, sweet enough to moisten a cake, yet full of antioxidants and folates, B vitamins and potassium. Raw grated beets tossed with lemon juice and olive oil make a great salad; roasted beets are delicious tossed with butter and dill, or in one of these recipes:
Crunchy Quinoa-dipped Fried Chicken Fingers with a spicy soy sauce based dip
It’s an interesting use of quinoa – as the crust on fried chicken fingers. They are delicious,especially with the dipping sauce, and they stay crisp for a long time.
I tried two ways of cooking the chicken – frying it in hot oil, as well as baking it in a hot oven on a well-oiled sheet tray. I prefered the traditionally fried chicken, but baking did work as well; just be sure to flip the chicken halfway through cooking so it browns on both sides. Continue reading →
I know it might be hard to believe, but there was a time when the only place a person could buy a decent bagel was in a big city kosher bakery. I had never even heard of a bagel until I was seventeen and the grocery store on Cape Cod where I was a cashier began carrying the frozen Lenders version at the request of summer people from places like Boston and New York City.
I was still a bagel neophyte when, a few years later, my college boyfriend took me home to meet his Brooklyn-born parents. They decided I was definitely not the girl for their son when I turned up my nose at lox and cream cheese and requested mayonnaise for the bagel from which I was scraping away the poppy seeds.
Now I eat bagels – with cream cheese – at least once a week. I buy them by the dozen from The Works Cafe in Concord, cut them in half, throw them in the freezer, then pop them in the toaster as needed, and they’re wonderful. But one day recently we ran out of our frozen stock and, because I wasn’t planning to make a trip to Concord any time soon, I decided to try making my own.
Making good bagels at home, it turns out, is a little more complicated than making a good loaf of bread at home. First of all, the dough, which is stiffer than regular bread dough, has to be kneaded for a long time to properly activate the gluten in it. And because the dough begins with a “sponge” (a loose mixture of flour, water and yeast), and because bagels have to spend the night in the refrigerator to ferment and develop the best flavor, you’ll need to start a day ahead of time. Furthermore, the bagels have to be boiled before being baked to set the gluten in the crust, which makes the finished product shiny and crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. Continue reading →
I recently picked up Paula Wolfert’s beautiful cookbook, The Food of Morocco, in which Wolfert extols preserved lemons as “the most important condiment in the Moroccan larder.” Fresh lemons, she warns, are no substitute, and I agree.
Brined in sea salt and lemon juice, then fermented for up to a month, preserved lemons take on a melting texture. Their flavor becomes more complex and mellow, as the tang of lactic acid fermentation melds with the lemon’s natural acidity. So while most of us wouldn’t want to eat more than a nibble of raw lemon peel, preserved lemon peel is as addictive as good olives; in fact, olives and preserved lemon are a classic combination in Morocco’s famous tagines.
Preserving lemons at home is easy. All you need are good quality organic lemons (conventional lemons harbor too many toxic chemicals), sea salt and a jar. How long the Continue reading →
Tips for perfect fondue and three recipes: Cheese, Chocolate and Breakfast
Sometimes a recipe that seems easy turns out to be vexingly difficult to pull off. Cheese fondue is a case in point. The list of ingredients couldn’t be simpler – not much more than wine and cheese. When it’s well done, fondue is a memorable dish – its smooth texture, comforting warmth and rich flavors perfectly balanced by crusty bread and crunchy vegetables.Continue reading →
Onions are biennials, that is, they form a bulb the first year of growth (this is what we eat) then send up a flower and form seeds the second year of growth. One way an onion bulb gets a jump on reproduction is to be light sensitive. As the days grow longer after the Winter Solstice on December 21, the onions in our larders sense spring is on the way and begin getting ready to send up a flower stalk. The best storage onions delay this process, but as soon as we begin getting over ten hours of light a day (where I live, that’s in February) even the best keepers are usually turning green in the middle and getting soft. So right about the time I start planting next year’s onions (around twelve weeks before the last frost) it’s also time to do something with last year’s onions before they go bad.
My favorite way to use up onions is to make a big batch of caramelized onions. Sweet, melting, golden caramelized onions are used in regional cuisines all over the world. In Greece, they are mixed with sheep milk yogurt and tossed with pasta and grated cheese, or served atop a dish of lentils and parsley. In France, where they are called “confit d’oignon” they turn up beside grilled meat or mingled with bacon and cheese in quiche. Tuscans strew them over their regional flatbread, schiacciata, along with a little cheese and a few olives to make a light lunch. Continue reading →
February’s full moon is known as the “Hunger Moon.” It wasn’t so long ago that people would face empty larders at the end of winter (in undeveloped countries people are still at risk for seasonal starvation). And even though these days relatively few Americans are at risk of dying for want of food, by the end of winter our bodies are longing for the spring tonics of early bitter greens, sunshine and best of all, the warm brown scent of thawing earth.
Which may be why potatoes are such a comfort to us during these dreggy days. They smell of the earth, don’t they? And they even taste of it in a good way – elemental and solid. Too, potatoes are one of the few vegetables (they’re actually a tuber) whose flavor improves with storage. According to Harold McGee, author of my favorite book of kitchen science, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, during proper storage (in the dark at temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees) the enzyme activity in potatoes “generates fatty, fruity, and flowery notes.” Continue reading →