Organic Gardening: Grow It, Pick It, Eat It

Young beans

Young beans (Photo credit: Nick Saltmarsh)

What better way would there be to get fresh, succulent organic vegetables than growing them yourself in your own garden?  Picture it:  you go out to your garden and there are your favorite vegetables at the peak of perfection and ready to be picked.  They have the best flavor, the most beautiful color and man, oh, man are they alive!

Just looking at these beauties sparks your desire and creativity for cooking today’s food, all the while knowing that you have the most nutritious, freshest and highest quality food at your fingertips.

Organic gardening is certainly a different way of growing things because, as you know, you aren’t going to use chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  All the better for the environment, the soil, and the health of you and your loved ones.  But more than that, organic gardening includes restoring your soil so it is healthy and full of minerals, knowing which insects you want and which ones you don’t (and how to get rid of the “don’ts”) and how to recycle organic materials for making compost.  For that you might want to look for a good Organic Gardening book.

Organic gardening is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to get outdoors and be more physically active now that spring is here and summer is around the corner.  I once had an organic garden in which I dug up most of my back yard to build.  I made a double-dug garden in a spiral shape which gave me lots and lots of space to plant a very wide variety of vegetables and the spiral made a convenient walkway for us to get around to every plant and care for it.

We had tons of food and our grocery bills were way down during those years.  Organic gardening is definitely a money saving venture.  I also learned a lot about how things grow and why I should love ladybugs even more than I already did.  I had, for instance, huge brussel sprout plants.  I didn’t even like brussel sprouts until I grew them organically.  Mine tasted better than any I had ever been served anywhere.  No kidding.

Simple Brussel Sprouts Saute

I would just pick them fresh, wash them and trim the stem end if necessary.  (By the way, it often wasn’t necessary because when you bring in something fresh from your garden, it hasn’t had time to dry out or get tough.)  Slice the brussel sprouts in half lengthwise and if they are a little large, slice the stem end vertically just about a quarter of an inch in so it will cook in about the same time as the rest of the sprout.  Heat up a heavy pan with some olive oil and throw in the brussel sprouts.  Saute them with some sea salt and pepper if you wish and really, any other herb or seasoning you think will be good.  I like to add in some crushed garlic because that’s my favorite.  When the brussel sprouts are tender but no mushy, they are done.  Serve them like they are or garnish them with something toasted such as toasted light or black sesame seeds.  Mmmmm!

Unfortunately I do not still have that big spiral-shaped garden.  But that’s okay if you are like me and don’t even have a back yard!  Organic gardening can be done in containers, in a community garden that promotes organic growing practices or, you can grow indoors too!

About these ads

Spring Salads

This is a post about salads and some alternatives to the ol’ lettuce and tomato in a bowl routine.  I could have had any number of names for this post, depending on what attitude I wanted to express:  “You did WHAT to your salad?” or how about “Press This!” (inside WordPress blogger pun).  Let’s see how the post turns out and then I’ll name the blog, okay?

BOILED SALAD

Spring has officially arrived and my menus have gotten much lighter.   I am definitely craving a salad but I’m not too excited about a regular Salad 101 creation.  The answer? Boiled salad!

Before you get too many images of a sorry piece of lettuce cooking away in a pot of water, let me explain.  A boiled salad is a combination of very lightly boiled vegetables that are served cool and often with a salad dressing.  I like to make my boiled salads as colorful as possible and I like to use decorative cutting.  I usually choose either three or five ingredients for the salad.

Here is an example of a boiled salad: cauliflower florets, kale, carrot flowers (more about that in a minute*), radish wedges and celery.  That’s five.  Each veggie is cut into smallish bite-size pieces and boiled.  To do that, bring spring water to a boil with a good pinch of sea salt.  Get your veggies cut up.

*Here is a YouTube video I found that does a great job showing how to make carrot flowers:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-InmfjjDOdY  (except I don’t peel the carrot if it’s organic)

1.  Start by boiling the cauliflower.  What you want to do is boil the light-colored vegetables first so they aren’t dulled by the greenish or orange-ish cooking water from boiling the other vegetables and so they aren’t influenced too much by a strong-flavor such as onions if you had that in your salad. For this combination here, I would boil the cauliflower, then the celery, then radish then carrots then kale.

2.  Do not over boil the vegetables.  Just drop them in the water and cook them a little bit–less than if you were serving them hot boiled or steamed.  They will appear brighter than when they were raw and at that point, pull them out of the boiling water.  You want most of them to still have some crunch but that “raw quality” is slightly altered by boiling.  Your dark leafy greens can be a bit more cooked because while you definitely want them to be a bright green, you still want to be able to chew them!

3. When you take the vegetable out of the boiling water, put it in a colander to drain.  If you think you overcooked it, you can run cold water over it to stop the cooking but I don’t like to do that because it reduces some of the flavor.

4. When everything is boiled and drained, place the veggies in a serving bowl or platter.  You can serve your boiled salad at room temperature or slightly chilled with a dressing of your choice.

5.  Save that cooking water!  You now have a flavorful soup base.

PRESSED SALAD

This is a cooking tool called a “salad press” or “pickle press.”   A pressed salad is not cooked at all, yet it is not just like a raw salad because it has been processed by pressing it in some sea salt for a period of time.  This is actually a pickling method, only it is done for a very short time to make an ever-so-lightly pickled or pressed dish.

To press salad, you can choose things like lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, radishes or anything that can be cut very small or that is “press-able.”  Chunks of cauliflower or broccoli, for instance, are not very press-able.  Use them for boiled salads.  Again, I like to use three to five ingredients for a pressed salad.

Here’s a simple pressed salad using cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, red onion and parsley.

1. Cut the cabbage into thin bite-size strips.  Cut the carrots into thin matchsticks.  Cut the cucumbers in half.  Remove the seeds with a spoon if you wish. I don’t remove seeds because I like my foods to be “whole.”  I also don’t peel my cucumbers because I buy organic and use the skins of my veggies.  Cut the half-cucumbers into slices.  Cut the red onion into thin slices.  Cut the parsley into small pieces.

2.  Put all the cut veggies into the salad press.  Add sea salt and start mixing the salad around with a utensil, chopsticks or–I just use my hands.  You will add enough sea salt to make the veggies start sweating or glistening.  The salt is pulling some of the water out of the vegetables.  Don’t worry, you’ll rinse the excess salt out later.

3.  Tighten the press down so the veggies are snug and the pressure of the press is helping to get the water out.  If you don’t have a salad press, just use a flat plate and a weight such as a heavy jar or a brick or rock.  They will do the same thing.

4.  The time you will press the veggies will depend on what veggies you use.  If you press a lettuce salad, it will only take 20-30 minutes and lettuce needs very little salt to “process” in the press.  With cabbage it will take longer–an hour or more.  You can decide how “pressed” you want your salad to be by how you like the taste and texture.  The thinner you cut your veggies, the less time they will take to press.

5.  When the salad is done pressing, you will see excess water in the press and you should drain that off.  Then rinse the salad itself in cool water and gently squeeze out the excess water by hand before serving.  You can serve the pressed salad with a dressing or not.  I usually don’t feel it needs one.

These two methods will help you lighten up your menus for spring and summer!  If you try them, let me know how they turned out for you.  I welcome your feedback and your questions.

NEW! 

For additional free recipes, cooking tips, and food information, you are invited to join PATTY’S CLUB!  Just go to my new Patty’s Club Page http://mycookinglife.com/pattys-club/ and follow the directions.

How I fed Peepeye, Poopeye, Pupeye and Pipeye

As a child, I’m sure I was no easy ride for my mother when it came to feeding me. I heard the stories about how they tried all kinds of milk looking for one I was willing to drink. Apparently I didn’t like goat’s milk, cow’s milk or any other kind of milk.  Not sure what Mom ended up doing about that. Maybe I was just a naturally smart kid.  I am not lactose intolerant, though I don’t drink milk or milk products and haven’t for over thirty-five years.  I figured I was weaned a long time ago and didn’t need it anymore.

Popeye and his identical quadruplet nephews (P...

Image via Wikipedia

I remember one or two evenings spent sitting at the dinner table by myself staring at some ice-cold food that had been served to me hours ago. I was destined to sit there until said food was consumed.  That happened once with spinach.  It was my own fault though, because I was crazy for the cartoon character, “Popeye,” and told my mother I wanted to be strong like him.  So she fed me canned spinach which had been simmered for, oh, maybe a half hour, and expected me to eat it.

Now I love all kinds of vegetables and usually prepare more than one vegetable side dish when I cook a meal.  I love so many vegetables and know so many ways to prepare them, I bet I could cook the rest of my life and not have the exact same meal twice!

The exception is beets.  I can’t stand beets.  I don’t even want to get close to a beet because I also can’t stand the smell of them.  Funny, because I love colorful food and red happens to be my favorite color!  I don’t know what it is about beets, but they are 100% exiled from my menu.  Just today, I saw a nice picture of a beet, blood orange and fennel salad on http://dailyamusebouche.com/2012/03/06/fennel-beet-and-blood-orange-salad/. So beautiful and yet, for me . . . ugh.  But maybe you love beets and so I’m generously showing you where to find a recipe (’cause you ain’t gettin’ it from me, no sir!).

I raised three children and I was thrilled about feeding them their first foods and cooking for them.  (Stopping here to chuckle over the picture of Popeye above with his nephews Peepeye, Poopeye and Pupeye.  These easily could have been nicknames for my three boys at one time or another!  I’ll leave it to them to work out who’s who. The fourth one, Pipeye, could be any one of their little friends who usually stuck around at mealtime.)

I made all their food myself right from the beginning.  Today, talking to young mothers, the idea of making all their own baby food seems overwhelmingly complicated and I don’t know too many who are willing to do it.  But I found it was very, very convenient and very, very worthwhile.

It was convenient because when I cooked for the adults, I could easily set aside a portion to prepare for the babies.  I did this because the children’s food would be simpler than ours and have much less salt than ours.  I cooked their food a little softer than ours so I could grind it up and/or they could manage to chew it with their little teeth.

Loved my “Happy Baby” baby food grinder!

Let me first say, that I am a proponent of breastfeeding.  That is surely baby’s best first food and that is what I did.  Interestingly, weaning was a pretty easy transition for my children.  As they grew and developed teeth, they naturally reached for solid foods and the breastfeeding gradually faded away by the time they were about two.  I attribute that to the fact that I did make their baby food and they had an excellent, wide range of organic whole foods in their young diets that satisfied their nutritional needs.

One exception was when one of them started eating dirt–I knew I needed to put more minerals in his diet and that put an end to the dirt diet.  Another was when one of them started developing slightly bowed legs.  This is not necessarily unusual in a toddler and you can observe that a young baby’s legs are definitely bowed before they start walking.  I immediately increased the variety of his foods and the condition was soon gone.  Food variety is extremely important for growing bodies!

As the children got older, my philosophy was to offer as wide a variety of foods as I could for them to try.   And they had so much energy!  [Comment received from one of them with the suggested blog topic:  "How to deal with three boys running around in circles between the living room, dining room and kitchen during meals slapping their stomachs"]

I also did a lot of decorative cutting (carrot flowers, radish roses, broccoli trees) and entertaining presentations (we’ve all seen smiley faces made of pancakes or eggs or whathaveyou).  Today, my grown children still enjoy a wide variety of vegetables and know many ways to prepare them.

It turned out that all three are really good cooks!  As a mom, I’m happy about that because anyone should know how to make an appealing, basic meal for themselves and hopefully know how to do it in such a way that they don’t get a serious nutritional deficiency.

I asked my son Dan how he learned so much about cooking.  He said, “Mom, you used to carry me on your back all the time while you were cooking so I saw how you did it!”  Yes, I did carry each of them on my back in one of those baby backpacks–especially when I was cooking.  I had no idea they were taking any of it in.

There’s quite a bit more to know about making baby food and how and when to introduce foods to your baby.  Here is how you can get started once your baby is ready to consume more than just breastmilk.

The first food for most babies is in the cereal category.  I recommend organically grown whole grains only. Start by making a whole grain milk that is just the consistency of your own breastmilk.  As the baby gets older and starts developing teeth, you can increase the thickness and increase the cooked grain solids.  This is the recipe I used:

Grain Milk

  • 4 parts organically grown short-grain brown rice
  • 3 parts organically grown sweet brown rice
  • 1 part organically grown barley
  • 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed*
  • Spring or filtered water
  • Brown rice syrup or barley malt**

Wash and soak the grains overnight in filtered or spring water.  Pressure cook the soaked grains with a 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed and five times more water (you may use the soaking water to cook the grains).  Bring the cereal up to pressure and cook for one and a half hours.  Remove the kombu.

For only liquid milk, strain the mixture in cheesecloth.  For cereal, include a little of the ground or mashed solids—more as the baby is older and can eat more solid food.  Sweeten the grain milk with rice syrup or barley malt to the approximate sweetness of breastmilk.  And if you aren’t sure what that would be, try a half teaspoon for each cup.

 *Kombu is a sea vegetable containing many minerals and trace minerals.  While I do not recommend giving young babies any salt in their food, a piece of this kombu is desirable for making the grain milk highly digestible and for providing minerals in an organic, plant-based form.

**Brown Rice Syrup or Barley Malt  are whole-grain sweeteners that are complex carbohydrates, not simple sugar.  In other words, they burn slowly and provide a steady source of fuel to the body.

You may have heard that Rice Syrup has gotten a very bad rap recently due to a study by researchers at Dartmouth College who have linked the presence of arsenic in certain organic products.  It is our responsibility to do our “due diligence” in monitoring the quality of the foods we eat–even those that come from the local health food store.  I also know that there has been a long-running attack against organic foods, vitamins and certain other healthful products that is nothing more than rumor-mongering by merchants of chaos.  In other words, I think you have to look behind the curtain and see who is backing (funding) such research and get all the data on it before deciding whether your information is valid or not.  You see vested interests in the pharmaceutical industry and in drug research all the time and it is present in food research as well.

Here is an excellent analysis of the recent organic food/arsenic “scare” by someone I respect.  http://www.christinacooks.com/_blog/Living_the_WELL_Life/post/Brown_Rice_Syrup_and_ArsenicThe_Truth_I_Discovered_-_by_Christina_Pirello/

Take a look and read all the way through it.  Do more homework if needed. Any mom would want to be sure.  My own conclusion is that a high-quality organic brown rice syrup from a reputable company is not only fine for consumption, but it wins hands-down compared with refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and any artificial sweeteners.

Here’s to happy, well-fed babies!  (And out of my deep respect and love for my children I am resisting the temptation to post photos of anyone eating dirt, falling asleep in their plate of food or running around slapping their stomach which might be considered embarrassing!)