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!

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My Obsession

It is Thanksgiving Day 2011 and I have been toying with the idea of writing about cooking for thirty-five years or so.  I’ve considered cookbooks, novels in which cooking takes a major roll (á la Like Water for Chocolate), poetry, newspaper columns about cooking, and painting and drawing about cooking.  That last is not really “writing,” but you get the idea.  And that whole time the one thing I did do was cook!  A lot!

I taught cooking for over 25 years in various cities where I’ve lived.  I taught out of my home, at natural food stores and other places.  I have invented recipes and even invented a no-tomato pasta sauce and a vegetarian alfredo sauce that was actually manufactured for a brief time in a Brooklyn food factory.  That’s a story for another blog.

I also wrote a column about natural foods in the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin under the name of a local co-op.  It was a Q & A column.  We wrote the questions and the answers until people started actually sending in questions.  I have the columns in a portfolio I keep of my freelance writing adventures and not too long ago pulled it out.

And there was this Q & A column in which I once recommended making peanut butter and sauerkraut or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  That used to be a favorite with my kids, but I wonder how many people actually tried that?!  I know what you might be thinking—“No wonder the Philadelphia Bulletin shut down!”  No, it shut down years after my column ended.  Really!

I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way that has made me pretty self-assured about my cooking.  Years ago my friend named Anne Marie bought me a book about how to write a cookbook and wrote me an incredible letter validating my talent and she continued to bug me about writing this for years.  But I never did it.

I used to cook for other people too. I did it for money but mostly I just loved doing it.  I had several friends who cooked for other people because we were studying and teaching Macrobiotics and eastern philosophy and healing.  So I cooked macrobiotic, vegetarian meals for friends and for people who were ill with degenerative diseases.  Many of them did better eating healthy food and some healed and some didn’t.  At that time I didn’t have the full picture of what would cause a person to heal that I have now.  That too is another subject.

Those wonderful people, friends and their families also urged me to start a catering business or open a restaurant.  I’ve always thought that would be way too labor intensive and really I considered it might ruin cooking for me.

I guess I could have gone to cooking school, and I did study with some fabulous teachers off and on in my life who remain an inspiration to me.  I never stopped studying cooking and have done it all sorts of ways via television cooking shows, books, friends and dining in all kinds of restaurants.

Probably the outstanding thing about my obsession with cooking is that I absolutely love my own cooking!  And this is annoying to some people who think I should not be the first one to compliment my own dishes at a meal.  (Sorry Dan, I can’t help doing that!)  It’s like being the first to “like” your own posts on Facebook.  Which I sometimes do also.

For instance today I’m going to my church for a big, beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner.  My friend Robin asked me to make the salad.  For a week now I’ve been imagining how various ingredients will taste together.  Now the salad is made and I taste-tested it to see how my chosen ingredients worked out together.  My first thought when I tasted it was, “I’ll probably mostly eat this salad at the dinner.  It is soooo good!”  So you see, I do love my own cooking and making and tasting this holiday salad pushed me over the edge to start writing!

The salad:

  • Red and Green curly leaf lettuce
  • Celery diced pretty small
  • Bits of sun-dried tomato
  • Fresh ripe pears skinned and diced
  • Roasted pecans flavored with a small dose of maple syrup (100% real stuff) and coated with a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, Hawaiian sea salt (I bought Hawaiian ‘cause I was thinking about my friends Kim and Ruth who now live in Hawaii and with whom I have shared many Thanksgiving dinners in the past) and some paprika.
  • The dressing is a simple red wine and olive oil vinaigrette that has salt and a dash of liquid stevia in it.
  • Garnished with a little shredded extremely sharp, stinky cheese if you like that.  (Sorry, I already threw the wrapper out and now I can’t remember the exact name of it.  It has holes like Swiss but it’s not Swiss and it’s not Havarti.  I will find out and let you know.) 

I won’t apologize for not including measurements!  I don’t measure hardly ever and you don’t need to either.  You just go by your taste and experience of what works.  That is the adventurous way to go.

Finally after all the years, I realized that the idea of creating aesthetic, delicious dishes and meals is my personal expression, my art.  And I realized that I have a viewpoint about many, many aspects of life that is manifested from my experiences, adventures and love of cooking.  So this is what I’m writing about—how I see and experience life through the viewpoint of cooking.

I hope you enjoy My Cooking Life and would love to have you contribute to it with your feedback, your own stories, or let me interview you!  At this point I have no idea how often I will be blogging but my target is at least once a week.

Much love,  Patty

PS:  I still love peanut butter and pickles on whole wheat toast!