An Idiot-Proof Guide To Seed Starting
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Depending on the final outcome, I might want to title this post “An Idiot Starts Seeds”, but so far so good.
We decided last fall we were interested in starting our own seeds indoors. We had been very happy with the wide variety of seedlings we could get at local farmers’ markets, almost always unusual heirloom varieties as well. But we did feel like we were losing a few weeks in the spring for those crops we might otherwise have direct sown, not to mention the midsummer plantings we never seemed to make room for but missed by the fall. If we learned to start seeds indoors, our precious community plot space would be maximized.
One of our fellow gardeners made starting out incredibly easy, selling us her old grow light box, a 72 cell greenhouse kit and replacement bulbs for less than the price of two seedlings. The greenhouse kit came with little peat plugs - an enormous space saver when first sprouting seedlings. So much so, in fact, that we planted a dozen or so cabbage and broccoli seeds and found we had no room for the growing plants. Here’s the tray full of reconstituted peat pellets:
... and tiny pepper plants sprouting:
I went through our seed packets and pulled anything I could plant by mid May and popped them in. Germination was incredibly fast for all but the peppers, but I put the tray under the lights anyway and they came along several days later. And just two weeks later we had plants big enough to begin repotting in nifty little newspaper pots I learned to make on YouTube:
The transplanting was easy, and did away with the slight legginess the tomatoes had acquired since they germinated and started growing so quickly I hadn’t yet put them under the grow lights. I keep them on overnight for 12-14 hours, and cover the entire table during the day to allow the plants to rest.
And for those of you for whom space is an issue - the entire light box sits perfectly in our bathtub, which has the added benefit of containing anything messy or wet and keeping out the curious cats. Next up: fertilizing.
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Sunday, February 05, 2017
Nothing makes me more envious of professional chefs than a perfectly cooked piece of meat. Of all the cooking I’ve learned to do, I still feel that is the one skill that eludes me.
However, there is one method of meat-cooking that I think I’ve managed consistently well: slow-roasting tougher cuts. For many practical reasons, these are things you don’t see often on a restaurant menu, but for the home cook they are forgiving, delicious, and economical.
I’ve posted about the virtues of slow-roasted pig shoulder before, but this recipe was even simpler than the previous one. I used the version found in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book, but he readily credits both the River Cafe and Nigella Lawson: “I include it here, shameless to be third in the queue, because not only is it a wonderful dish but it is also an incredibly elegant solution to the problem of feeding twenty or more people with minimal effort.”
I agree it is a wonderful dish, but since there are relatively few ingredients, quality is essential. I used a Wyebrook Farm pork shoulder from La Divisa, and I opted for the more arduous process of grinding the whole spices with a mortar and pestle. Beyond that, the recipe is extremely simple. Although Fearnley-Whittingstall provides an unbelievably large window for cooking time - 16 to 24 hours (seriously) - it’s an easy test to see if the pork is done: just poke it with fork or a spoon and see if it falls from the bone.
As far as presentation, I shredded the pork and tossed it in the basting juices rather than serving slices of it as Fearnley-Whittingstall recommends. It made for an extremely satisfying meal of which even a professional chef might be jealous.
Valley Shepherd Creamery’s Oldwick Shepherd and Apple Tart with Rosemary
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
On a recent visit to the Reading Terminal Market, I took the opportunity to stock up at Valley Shepherd Creamery. In particular, I bought a large piece of their Oldwick Shepherd cheese, as I was anxious to try the Cheese and Apple with Rosemary Tart recipe included in their September email.
Rather than using store-bought pastry (as recommended in the recipe), I made my own using Castle Valley Mills Soft Wheat Flour and Hillacres Pride butter. I let it rest overnight and rolled it out in the morning as the oven pre-heated. I used Stayman apples, which are particularly good for baking. Also, since the apples were on the small side, I used two apples rather than one.
When I bought the cheese, Zeke wanted me to let them know how it turned out: Zeke, I will be back for more Oldwick Shepherd very, very soon.
Day Trip: Lititz, PA
Sunday, November 06, 2016
Wanting to take advantage of the fall weather, we recently spent a day in and around Lititz, PA.
We began with a late-morning walk through Speedwell Forge County Park. The woodland trail goes along (and then over) a creek as well as alongside fields. Though it did include a few inclines, it was an easy hike and a picturesque start to our outing.
Next, we headed into the center of Lititz for lunch and shopping. Downtown Lititz is one of the prettiest town centers around, and the Bull’s Head Public House occupies a prized place at the head of its main street. The beer list is superb, and the pub-style food is far more refined than you might suppose. After some antique shopping - not to mention a fresh soft pretzel from Sturgis - we were ready to continue on. The only thing missing was a stop at Rooster Street Provisions. We’ll save that for next time.
Our final stop was Waltz Vineyards. Planted on family farmland in the rolling hills west of Lititz, Waltz Vineyards produces a range of quality wines that rank among the best of what’s produced in Pennsylvania. All of the wines are estate grown and bottled, and Waltz offers a local cheese plate to serve alongside their wines. We were particularly impressed by the Old Line Chardonnay. It nearly equals the quality of Unionville Vineyard’s Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, but at almost half the price. After our tasting and cheese plate, we enjoyed the late-afternoon sun on some Adirondack chairs overlooking the countryside. It was difficult not to order more wine and while away the rest of the day in those chairs, but it was only a day trip after all.
Posted by Kevin on 11/06 at 02:42 AM
Our Very Own Dried Beans
Saturday, October 22, 2016
We took a photo just like this a year ago. Those beans were from Savoie Organic Farm. These came from our garden, dried right on the vine. Pole beans are delicious fresh, but my favorite thing about the varieties we planted was that if we missed the window when the beans were slim and tender we could simply wait and harvest them as dried beans. Hence the sexist but hilarious name of one variety: Lazy Housewife.
Posted by Donna on 10/22 at 04:55 AM
Farm Visit: Whitesbog, NJ
Monday, September 19, 2016
I’m not sure if it’s fair to simply call Whitesbog a farm. A restored village that once supported a thriving cranberry and blueberry production, Whitesbog is a beautiful slice of Pine Barrens history.
We visited during an art festival featuring site specific installations and a preview screening of an excellent documentary film called The Pine Barrens, but on any day a visitor can roam the 3,000 acres of bogs, trails and forest, stop in the general store that houses what was once the post office, and view the newly created Whitesbog Art Gallery.
One of the restored homes is that of Elizabeth Coleman White, granddaughter to the original owner and founder of the cranberry production. It was White who, along with Dr. Frederick V. Coville, through exhaustive research and experimentation brought successful blueberry cultivation to the entire region.
The bogs are only a short walk or ride down a dirt path from most of the buildings of Whitesbog, and you shouldn’t miss them. Like the rest of the Pine Barrens, it’s hard to stand amid them and remember you are in the most densely populated state in the country.
Farm Visit: Saul Agricultural High School
Saturday, August 06, 2016
While we’ve driven by it many times on our way to hiking along the Wissahickon, we had never stopped at the student run farm at Saul Agricultural High School until last week. Managed with the help of Weavers Way staff, students and faculty grow vegetables for the Henry Got Crops! CSA (long sold out this year) and the twice weekly market located at 7095 Henry Avenue.
Student volunteers were out working, and the market was full of seasonal fare. We loved that you can also pick up an assortment of locally made favorites such as Philly Muffins. The CSA boxes looked lovely as well.
Eating Our Way Through The DNC
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
As if we needed more evidence that Philadelphia is finally getting the credit it has long deserved as one of the best food destinations in the country, every major publication seemed to put out its own list of all the wonderful places to eat during the Democratic National Convention held here last week. Many of our best restaurants, big and small, were visited by prominent DNC speakers or bought out for the evening for private events, not to mention the thousands of attendees and volunteers filling up tables all over the city. But our favorite event of the week was Philly Feast Food Truck Festival, co-sponsored by Plate of the Union and The Food Trust. Dozens of local food trucks lined the streets surrounding 3rd and Arch, along with live entertainment and vendors selling locally made goods.
While we weren’t at all surprised to see The Food Trust sponsor such an event, we had never heard of Plate of The Union and were thrilled to hear about their mission. Philadelphia has long been home to several food advocacy organizations - it’s fantastic to see the issue gain national traction.
Posted by Donna on 08/03 at 01:54 PM
Monday, July 25, 2016
I hope you’ll forgive me for the cheesy filter on the photo above. It is of a hot dog after all, though one made by the exceptional Stryker Farm. We enjoyed these as much as their bangers last winter.
Market Highlights: Christ Church Old City July 20th
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Having missed Headhouse this weekend, it was great to be able to pick up some midweek groceries at Christ Church Farmers’ Market this afternoon. Vendors included Cherry Grove Farm, who brought a variety of their cheeses, and Beechwood Orchards, where we snapped up the first blackberries we’ve seen all year. Taproot Farm also had a lovely variety of produce, including the sunflower shoots above. We walked home happy with a delicious cup of buckwheat cherry ice cream from Weckerly‘s.
Va La’s Zafferano
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Anthony Vietri does not make a lot of wine; neither does Anthony make many types of wine. So a new, limited release from Va La is worth noting, and just as summer is reaching its midpoint, we have another one in Zafferano. Like all Va La wines, it’s made with a combination of estate-grown grapes - this time, in the style of an “orange” wine. Orange wines leave the juice in contact with the skins before being separated (hence the color). I’ve had several orange wines before, French and Italian, and I have found their style to be as varied as wines designated “white” or “red.” Not surprisingly, therefore, the Zafferano manages to stand apart from other orange wines just as Va La’s other wines stand apart from more traditional white and red.
The first thing I noticed was the deep, rich color. I actually delayed smelling and tasting it just so I could stare at it. The nose of this wine is of some fruit, but I don’t know what type of fruit it is. It isn’t red fruit, black fruit, stone fruit, or berries. The closest thing I could think of would be watermelon, but an intensely scented and flavored watermelon. I mean, like the best watermelon I’ve ever tasted. Then, I smell flowers - honeysuckle in particular. Once I tasted it, I was surprised how those sweet aromas were combined with a taste devoid of sweetness. In other words, this wine could pair beautifully with any local food the summer spurs you to eat. So, combining a gorgeous scent with a dry taste, properly chilled, makes for an incredibly refreshing glass on a summer afternoon.
And that’s exactly what we did.
You Must Return Here With A Shrubbery
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Several years ago, I was enjoying a drink (at a now-shuttered restaurant) so much that I complimented the bartender on my cocktail. He nodded in agreement and replied, “Shrubs are cool.” I am ashamed to admit I had no idea what he was talking about. (That’s not entirely true. There was muddled thyme in my cocktail, so I assumed he was referring to that.) Only very recently did I connect that statement with the Martha Washington Raspberry Shrub served at City Tavern, even though I have walked by the sign advertising said shrub at least a thousand times.
Needless to say, I am an extremely late-comer to the possibilities of fruit shrubs. (For those readers who truly are the last people on Earth to learn of them, shrubs are fruit-based syrups mixed with vinegar.) One day several weeks ago, I decided to experiment with some underripe strawberries, using this recipe. After a little more research, I came about this from Michael Dietsch. Taking Dietsch at his word, I used the cold method for my next shrub. However, I wasn’t using strawberries this time; I was using rhubarb recently picked from our garden.
The result was definitely more flavorful, and Dietsch is absolutely correct that the acid mellows in time, but this shrub did not have the viscosity of the cooked one. I am confident enough in the cold method to use it for any other fruit, but given the texture of rhubarb, I think I would use the “hot” method in the hopes it might further break down and exude its juices. Nonetheless, Dietsch’s cocktail recipe was much better than the previous, and it made a delicious cocktail with club soda and Bluecoat Gin.
Pickle and Peach Salad
Saturday, July 09, 2016
I use the word pickle deliberately here, despite the fact that these clearly are not pickled or fermented cucumbers. They are, however, Kirbys - those small sweet lovely crisp cucumbers that any self respecting South Jersey native simply calls pickles. These are from Blooming Glen, and I might have knocked a person or two over in my rush to get at them at Headhouse Farmers Market. None made it to the actual pickling stage, but hopefully there will be more tomorrow for that. The mozzarella is from Valley Shepherd Creamery. Looking at their cheese case at Reading Terminal - packed with different varieties and styles - it might be easy to miss the freshly made mozzarella mentioned on the chalkboard. You shouldn’t, especially at this time of year. The salad below came together the day after we had gorged ourselves on mozzarella and tomatoes and wanted something a bit different.
Pickle and Peach Salad
3 Kirby pickles, sliced into half moons
2 peaches, cubed
A handful of greens
2 green onions, white and green both sliced
1/4 pound mozzarella, diced or torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
generous pinch of salt
Toss all ingredients until well combined. Add salt if necessary. Serves two as a meal.
Some Lessons From A Beach Garden
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Last week we visited Beach Plum Farm, which in addition to operating a farm stand also supplies several restaurants in Cape May with fresh produce, eggs and pork. We’ve toured the fields before, but new this year was a large section of raised beds behind the farmstand with all manner of vegetables growing. The beds were beautiful, but by no means ornamental and already producing a serious amount of vegetables given their size.
We were excited to see tomatoes tied between two stakes with taut twine, as we learned to do years ago at Greensgrow Farm. The system works beautifully in small plots if you have the time to devote to keeping up with the growth.
These zucchini plants amazed us - when crowded as they are, the leaves just grow upward instead of spreading out.
We took note of the variety of corn growing here. These are much smaller plants than those we grew last year but with lots of ears already well formed.
Posted by Donna on 07/05 at 05:37 PM
Recipe Revisit: Ricotta and Zucchini Pasta
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
When I first posted this recipe last year, I concluded with the suggestion that a mint pesto would be a worthwhile variation. Well, now that summer has come around again, I got around to following my own advice.
I think the mint pesto was every bit as good as the basil, just different. Moreover, David Lebovitz has now convinced me of the superiority of the mortar and pestle. In all honesty, to make an actual pesto is quite laborious, but what you make here is easily done while the zucchini softens. And it is worth every tedious grind of the pestle. One last note - Galen Glen’s Stone Cellar Riesling paired every bit as well as the Turdo Sauvignon Blanc.