Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Garden Recap

The Best and Worst of My 2011 Garden

Much like I did last year, I'm going back through some of the things that went well and not so well in my 2011 garden.

 Best -- We grew some first-time crops this year: tomatillos, onions, and broccoli.

Worst -- Never quite got my fall garden started. Never quite got my cold frame up.


Best -- I feel confident saying that we can grow peppers. We even grew new varieties (like cayenne and Purple Beauty) and had good results with them too!

Worst -- Some things didn't work out well. Like these carrots.

My sunflowers didn't do well this year either. Blooms weren't as prolific as last year and didn't last long. I guess weather conditions in my area were just different this year. :(

 Best -- YOU--The online community! I've met so many cool gardeners from around in the world and learned more about gardening from interacting with you and reading your blogs. I also feel such a stronger connection to my food now that I grow some of my own. It makes me very excited to keep learning, keep trying new things. I thank all of you for reading and commenting and sharing your garden experiences with me too.

One More Best -- my new garden helper, Cleopatra the adorable Kitten. She is so cute! (Even though she steals cherry tomatoes and hides them throughout the house).

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


So I'm one of the five people back in the office this week. It's actually pretty nice to be there when no one else is, and between you and me, it means I don't have to worry about what my hair looks like.

We took a pre-Christmas mini-break to Reykjavik, Iceland. Because we are crazy enough to go to a remote island so close to the Arctic Circle in the middle of December. Actually there were quite a few travelers there--we met tourists from the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia, but it certainly wasn't hectic and crowded, which made it a very nice, relaxing vacation before we came back to the Christmas madness.  I'm still going through my disc, but I thought I'd share a few pictures taken during daylight hours.

{corner cafe in Reykjavik, and nice clear sidewalks}

The weather was actually pretty mild. Temps were in the 30s (Fahrenheit) both day and night, and we weren't too uncomfortable while walking around the city, except for the last day when it was so windy that we had to stop into many cafes and restaurants for snacks and drinks and stuff.  At this time of year there are maybe five hours of daylight, but the Christmas lights and decorations in everyone's homes and office buildings made everything look festive and cheerful and certainly helped me get over the fact that it was pitch black at 9:30 in the morning.

{top to bottom: a re-created Viking lodge that was near a church; the first Icelandic parliament house (I will double check my notes); and a tree decorated for Christmas just outside a church}

And yes, there was tons of snow! When we left Reykjavik and went touring around the countryside, everything was blanketed in white. It was beautiful and so peaceful-looking. Since we had a brown Christmas here in the DC-area (temperatures around 50F on Christmas Day!?!), it was very nice to be somewhere that was a true winter wonderland, especially because I didn't have to shovel it, fight traffic in it, or wait for public transportation in it. The only vegetation I saw was in the form of Christmas trees and other evergreens, but it suited me just fine.

As I mentioned yesterday, Icelandic food was good. Fish and lamb were common, and they tasted so fresh and natural because the fish are caught right off the coast and the sheep are grass-fed and not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Before I left, people told me that all I'd get was herring, but I ate a lot of salmon, haddock, and cod. Vegetables were a bit more limited, but that was to be expected. They have greenhouses where they grow tomatoes and cucumbers, but they didn't look or taste as good as what we can get in warmer climates. I'm certainly not complaining, though, it was nice to see the effort. During one meal, my husband's fish and chips came with a delicious mango (!!) salad (imported I'm sure), so it wasn't like everything was completely brown. Oh--can we talk about the butter? The brand I tried (Smjor) was sooo good and creamy, and guess what? They sell it here at Whole Foods! I have already gone out and bought a stick to smother on all my bread.

I wish I could be a professional traveler. I would love to go back someday when everything is green. I'm signing off with a picture of me dressed as an Icelandic Viking. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dark Days of Winter Week 4: Icelandic Fish and Chips

{icelandic fish and chips with locally-caught haddock and icelandic-grown potatoes}

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! My Week 4 post is a week late--Week 4 of the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge began in Iceland and ended with Christmas, all of which made it very easy to indulge and forget about consuming a locally-sourced meal for the week. Husband and I took a little pre-Christmas vacation to Iceland, which was cold and beautiful and so much fun. Living on a completely remote island has made Icelandic people fairly self-sufficient, so although a lot of food is imported, Iceland does have greenhouses where some fruits and vegetables are grown, like tomatoes and cucumbers. The food was quite delicious (and despite what people had told me, it didn't all taste like fish!)

As I've been going through my pictures, I realized that a lot of the meals we ate were primarily made with local ingredients. The most purely "locally sourced" meal I ate was simple: fish and chips (potatoes). The main ingredients were definitely local, but condiments were a little harder to come by according to "local" rules. The haddock was, of course, caught in Icelandic waters, and I asked the waitress about the potatoes. They too were grown in Iceland. The haddock was battered in spelt and barley, and of course, you have to eat fish and chips with malt vinegar, all of which was imported. And I'm pretty sure the sea salt flakes were from an English brand.  So this was what I considered my most "local" meal for Week 4. This meal was so good, we went back another day for more.

And speaking of "dark days"--we had maybe five hours of daylight (NOT necessarily sunlight). More Iceland pictures to come. I'm still recovering from Christmas feasting. 

{A short post and some pics of our trip here}

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Whoops--not a Chocolate Pepper

A back post that got lost in draft form--I thought I had planted sweet chocolate pepper seeds last spring, and was excited to see the dark brown peppers emerge. In mid-September the colors started to change. I then went on vacation, expecting to see dark brown peppers when I came back.

I guess the seeds got mixed up because my peppers turned red, not brown. I'm not entirely sure what happened--I guess there were red bell seeds in the packet instead of chocolate ones. I actually didn't have any red bell peppers seeds last spring and was a little bummed that I forgot to order some. But I guess things worked out all right because I got the red bells I wanted. We'll try for Sweet Chocolates again next spring. (Peppers in my 2011 garden listed here)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Farm Fresh Egg Mozzarella Sandwich

Last night's dinner was breakfast food. During this time of year there are so many holiday parties and team lunches that I often feel too full and/or sick to have dinner. I had gone to lunch with coworkers and ate so much that I wanted a light dinner. So I had a breakfast sandwich. It was made with these local ingredients: eggs, butter, mozzarella cheese, and spinach.

I recently found an excellent local source of mozzarella cheese and butter at my farmers' market. Blue Ridge Dairy makes mozzarella and butter on site. The butter was light in color and smelled so good. I thought it tasted a little peppery.  The cheese was very creamy, almost like burrata. It was so much better than any mozzarella I've ever bought at a grocery store. (See all those bottles with brownish liquid? I'm a salad dressing hoarder).

My eggs come from Sunpower Farm, a local farm (noted here).  Non-local ingredients include bread, milk, and salt and pepper. I got the rolls from Atwater Bakery. They use organic ingredients and try to buy locally when possible. I believe their primary flour source is in South Carolina, so that's outside the 150-mile parameter of a local meal. But I like that they buy from family-run farms, and the bread is good and fluffy. I used milk to scramble the eggs, and that was not from a local source either.

I added spinach from a local farm (via the farmers' market last weekend) for a little texture, and voila! My farm fresh egg and mozzarella sandwich!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dark Days of Winter Week 3: Beef Stew

My all-local meal this week is my favorite winter time meal: beef stew.

Beef Stew (in a Crock Pot):
- about 2 pounds eye round (from the Lamb's Quarter, a local family-run farm, via my farmers' market)
- one bunch carrots (Dupont Circle farmers' market)
- 2 stalks celery (farmers' market)
- 1.5 pounds potatoes (farmers' market)
- 1 cup onion {roughly half a medium onion} (farmers' market)
- 2 cloves garlic (farmers' market)
- 2 tbsp vinegar (exception, added to the stew to help flavors absorb)
- 2 tbsp butter (exception, to sauté the veggies before adding to the stew; I use a dairy-free, soy-free butter)
- salt and pepper to taste (exceptions)
Fill slow cooker with water (about 32 ounces), and let it stew!

It was really basic--beef and vegetables went into a slow cooker in the morning and by then end of the day, the house smelled like beefy heaven. We had leftovers too, which we froze. I usually like to have rice or rolls with beef stew, but I excluded both of these ingredients for the local-food only meal. We also excluded any kind of broth, using water only, and the beef was so full of flavor that the stew didn't really need anything. Our bellies were warm and happy.

{I have since found a local bakery, Atwater Bakery, that makes bread using flour from family farms and organic, seasonal ingredients. Some flour sources were within the 150-mile radius for this Challenge, but some were further. If I absolutely need bread for a meal, I'll likely use theirs. This resource seems in keeping with the spirit of the Challenge though it may not conform strictly to the rules, and let's face reality, unless I want to give myself indigestion, I probably shouldn't bake anything. Can't wait to try it!}

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Garden Wish List

A few things on my garden wish list...

 1. A fall/winter garden - I had planned to have one this year, but it didn't quite happen. Maybe next year...

2. Watermelon and Corn - This comes down to needing more space. These just can't be grown in containers. We sort of grew watermelon last year, but the one melon that popped up really didn't get very big, and I can't even remember how it tasted (probably bad).

3. Citrus trees - I would love to have lemon and lime trees, and maybe an orange tree. I actually did have a dwarf meyer lemon tree once, and I think I killed it by over-fertilizing. That was a few years ago. I know a little bit more about gardening now, and have better resources online, so I'm thinking of trying again.

{image via Seed Savers Exchange}

4. Cilantro - my nemesis. One day I shall conquer you. (Then again, we found a Latin grocer that sells 3 bunches of cilantro for $1, so...)

5. Potatoes - I eat so many potatoes, I really wish I had space to grow them. I love the blue & purple ones. I've been reading about how to grow them in containers. We're thinking of building a box to grow tubers next year. That would be so awesome.

What's on your garden wish list?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dark Days of Winter Week 2: Breakfast

Week 2 is all about my favorite meal: breakfast.

Growing my own vegetables is still fairly new to me, and making a conscious effort to eat meals comprised only of local foods is something I've never done before, so during this challenge I will probably keep things simple so that I don't fail or get discouraged, but as time goes by I want to be creative and try ingredient combos that I've never had before.

This week's meal was very simple--just an omelet made with SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) eggs, vegetables from my garden, and some veggies from the farmers' market.

I buy the eggs at my favorite cheese shop in D.C. (which, ironically, does not sell any local cheeses).

I love buying these eggs because they always come in a variety of colors, including green! I believe it's the Araucana chicken that lays greenish-blue eggs. Is it strange that I'm a full-grown adult and I get excited about green eggs?

Our garden produced a lot of peppers this year, so we try to include them in as many dishes as we can. These cherry peppers are sweet and taste really good grilled or just steamed.

My SOLE Omelet:
- 2 eggs (local farm)
- butter (exception: I use a dairy-free, soy-free butter)
- spinach (farmers' market)
- 1 small potato (famers' market)
- cherry peppers (my garden)
- 1 tomatillo (my garden)
- rosemary (my garden)

And although I didn't do a side-by-side comparison of these eggs and grocery-store-bought eggs for 79¢/dozen, I can tell you that the SOLE eggs had flavor so rich, natural, and truly "egg-like" that they were well worth the extra dollars.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Local Hunting and Gathering

I spent the weekend hunting for locally grown vegetables and grass-fed/pasture-raised beef and chicken, which I found at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market in DC on Sunday. This is my new favorite market. Dupont Circle only allows producer-only farmers and most of them are from VA and MD.  The market website lists all vendors, so I can research them to learn about how they grow their products. The market goes year-round, which will come in handy for the Dark Days Challenge. I stocked up on some vegetables for my meals this week, and bought a little extra to freeze for later this winter. 

I learned something unfortunate too--the farmers' market near my house allows re-selling, which I find extremely disappointing. And the site doesn't list vendors, so I'm unable to distinguish between those who are producer-only and those who are vendors. My grass-fed beef seller is the only vendor whose products I trust there now, and that's because I can find his farm on the internet and see how he raises and cares for his animals. So I won't be going there anymore, and even though Dupont Circle isn't as convenient, at least there's a wide selection and can rest assured that the products are locally grown and organically produced.

This weekend I bought onions, garlic, broccoli, spinach, carrots, celery, potatoes, bison, and some of the last few chicken breasts I'm likely to see this season. Best of all--I found cheese! I found locally-made cheese that I like. I spent the weekend planning menus for upcoming Dark Days local meals and freezing vegetables for the later winter months when the selection at the market won't be as varied.

I froze broccoli and spinach. Both have to be blanched before freezing. I steamed the broccoli for 5 minutes, then dumped it all into a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes before separating it into containers for freezing. 

I steamed the spinach for only one minute--any longer will cook it too much. I then placed the spinach into an ice bath right away, and put it in a salad spinner to drain the excess water out. (You can use paper towels to dry off the water if you don't have a spinner). I then separated the spinach into serving sizes for future use, and bagged the leaves before freezing. 

I have some squash and peppers from my own garden that I can use, but not nearly enough to get me through the winter. I'm excited to do this Challenge and hope I can come up with creative meals, even in the "Dark Days" of winter.