Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dark Days Challenge Finale! (Breakfast)

There will be no Garden Best/Worst post this month. Blogging time got away from me, and I want to focus on the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge, which ends today.  We were tasked with coming up with an all local breakfast, so for my last meal of the Challenge, I made a two-cheese-spinach omelet with hash browns:

Omelet Ingredients:
eggs -- organic and from PA (which falls within the 150 miles rule)
mozzarella cheese -- Blue Ridge Dairy, VA
sheep's milk cracked pepper cheese -- Everona Dairy, VA 
red and purple peppers -- my garden
spinach -- local farmers' market (purchased in December and frozen)
potatoes -- local farmers' market
butter -- Blue Ridge Dairy, VA
Salt was the exception to the local ingredients rule. I also had a steaming cup of coffee, which was not locally sourced either.

{Those bites of mozzarella cheese were A.Maz.Ing.}

I cannot believe it has been four months since I started the Challenge! I'm very glad I did it. It was a fun experiment, and I learned a lot. First,  I learned that the farmers' market close to my house is actually not a producers-only market; they allow re-sellers. This was disappointing to learn, but it led me to FreshFarm Markets a network of producer-only farmers' markets in the DC-area. The market at Dupont Circle is open year-round, and this gave me access to meat, winter veggies, and even other veggies that farmers had in storage (it's how I scored potatoes in January). One of the markets in the network is near my office, and it just re-opened for the season, so I won't have to deal with the crowds at Dupont anymore.

Second (and it's kind of obvious, but goes hand in hand with #1), I learned that eating locally also means eating seasonally for the most part. We shouldn't see asparagus or peaches in January, which is what they have at the resellers market near my house. I have certainly become more aware of what it means to eat locally, organically, sustainably, and ethically.

Third, I tried a lot of new food. I ate rainbow chard for the first time ever a few weeks ago, and I also made my first gratin ever!

I was also forced to try new food combos or get creative with meals in order to meet the Challenge rules, like when I had apple-sage-chicken, apple-potato hash, and shell-less tacos. I don't know if I'll do shell-less tacos again. There are a lot of things that I like in my tacos that cannot be sourced locally, like avocados, limes, sour cream, and a ton of spices. But that was the fun of the Challenge. It forced me to think creatively about my meals, and you REALLY appreciate things like citrus when you suddenly can't have them.

I found new local vendors that I plan to support from now on, like the Blue Ridge and Everona Dairies--I am now a big fan of their cheese and butter. We also liked the bison meat from Cibola Farms, ground beef from Lamb's Quarter, and chicken from Eco-Friendly Foods.

{Virginia has some great vineyards. Local wine rocks}

It was a fun experiment, and not really much of a hardship to create one local meal a week. Of course, I had the benefit of a freezer stocked with some home-grown veggies and year-round access to local meat and produce from the farmers' market. I've been trying to educate myself for quite some time about the benefits of eating in season and from local sources. This Challenge helped focus those efforts by making me document my progress.  Although this Challenge is over, I will continue to try to make entire meals using only local ingredients. This will become much easier when the warm weather brings the summer veggie harvests. The last thing I learned was the importance of planning ahead so that my freezer and pantry and stocked for next winter. I'm looking forward to next year's Challenge!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Springing to Life

blueberry bush 3-24-11, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.

After breaking my own camera, I have had a few difficulties using my husband's camera. Is Mercury in retrograde or something? I don't usually have technical difficulties. Hmph.

I forgot to post pictures of my blueberry plant progress. We used to have 3 blueberry plants. Two of them did not survive this past winter (ironic, because it was so mild. Yet they survived blizzards in prior years). My husband dug up the two plans that showed no signs of life and, sadly, found rotted roots.
Blueberry plants tend to produce more when they have a friend, so we bought one more plant for this one to cross-pollinate with. I'll have to keep a close eye on this area of the yard to make sure there's proper drainage. I think that, plus a black tarp-like thing I had laid down, contributed to the root rot of the other plants.

Next up: adding some coffee grounds to the soil and setting up a net so that I actually get to enjoy the berries instead of all the birds and squirrels getting to them.

blueberries1 3-17

Do you have blueberry plants? Any tips for caring for them?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Seed Starting 2012

seed starting 3-24-11, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.

A lot has been going on here in the last week and a half. The bad news--I broke my camera. I've dropped it many times over the years, but this last time finally did it in. It's kaput.

I have my husband's camera to record seed progress. I started my 2012 tomato seeds March 13: Mortgage lifters, Marglobes, and ground cherries. As of this past Saturday, 2 of the 4 Mortgage lifters sprouted, all 3 Marglobes sprouted, and 1 of the 3 ground cherries sprouted. I'm sad to say I probably won't be growing sunflowers this year. I'm saving those giant containers where we've grown sunflowers for the Mortgage Lifters.

Over the weekend, I also started a few more ground cherry seeds, as well as Jupiter bell peppers, Sweet Chocolate bell peppers, and alyssum. My husband, the hot pepper lover, started some pepperoncino seeds, habanero, serrano, cherry bells, and anaheim seeds. We started some pole beans too.

hydrangea 3-17

The weather these last 10 days has been hot, like summer temperatures in the high-70s to low 80s. Things cooled off a little today to cooler spring-like weather, but the heat last week jump started some plants. My hydrangeas provided a burst of green on St. Patrick's Day. It's nice to see green when it's so hot. It's a little bizarre to feel heat but still see bare trees. Many plants haven't yet caught up to the wacky weather.

So now begins Seed Watch, anxiously waiting for those little seedlings to sprout...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dark Days of Winter/First Day of Spring

It feels weird to write "Dark Days of Winter" when the days aren't dark anymore and it has felt like spring since February. Actually, today, on the official first day of spring, it feels like summer here. We've had temperatures in the mid-high 70s since last week. 

I'm in the last two weeks of the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge. This week's meal was chicken baked with local apples and sage with spinach and potatoes from the farmers' market on the side. Everything except the olive oil and salt came either from my garden or local farmers:

chicken breasts - EcoFriendly Foods, VA
apples - farmers' market
sage - my garden
spinach - farmers' market
potatoes - farmers' market
butter - Blue Ridge Dairy, VA 

I've been trying to think of ways to use up the local apples without making desserts and having to think about local sources of sugar, flour, etc. We were having baked chicken last night, so my husband sliced an apple and placed the slices on top of the chicken breasts. We also stuffed the breast with sage from my garden. I bought the spinach at the farmers' market in December and froze it, and the taste was still so pure and fresh that it didn't need any seasoning. The potatoes were also local (from a farm in WV, I think) and we baked them as well, and topped them with only butter from a farm in VA.

The apple-sage baked chicken was so good. It felt like such a light, healthy meal, which was very welcome on a warm evening. The farmers' market near my office is opening this Thursday, two weeks earlier than normal. I wonder if the unseasonably warm temperatures have prompted crops to ripen faster. I'm glad that's opening, I won't have to trek all the way to Dupont Circle on Sundays now. That market gets insanely crowded.

Just two more weeks left in the challenge! I still have beef, spinach, peppers, and broccoli in the freezer, and I'm excited to see what other goodies I can find at the farmers' market on Thursday to round out the last few meals.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quote of the Day: Charles Dickens

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

This quote sums up the month of March perfectly, at least around these parts. That's exactly how it felt around here on Saturday--freezing in the shade, but warm and cozy in the sun. Sunday was better, not as windy or chilly, but still sunny. On Sunday I ventured out to do some garden chores: trimming back the ivy near the fish pond, weeding, seed starting.  But I didn't do any of it.  I blame my lethargic attitude on my allergies. I know when spring has arrived because I spend most of my waking hours sneezing and itching.

I did check on the few plants I do have. The broccoli transplants are doing OK, but the containers where I started spinach and lettuce seeds a couple of weeks ago are still empty. I saw one little lettuce seedling coming out, but it was so small that it wasn't worth photographing. There is a seedling in the spinach container, but I don't know if it's spinach or a weed. I've been waiting for spring to get here, and now that's it's practically here, I just don't feel like doing anything. :( 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hello, Weekend

{Photograph by Paul Poplis, Getty Images, for National Geographic}

It's been a long, stressful, chilly week. I'm so ready for the weekend! I need a warm, sunny beach and a margarita. I found this list of Top 10 Beach Drinks by National Geographic. And don't forget to move your clocks forward one hour this Sunday!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

All About the Chard

I'm still working my way through this bottomless basket of rainbow chard. My Dark Days Challenge meal for the week was another chard meal--a mozzarella-chard omelet. The mozzarella cheese was from the Blue Ridge Dairy in VA. I also used butter from the Blue Ridge Dairy. The omelet was good; the cooked chard tasted like spinach but with more intense flavor, and because it didn't wilt as quickly as spinach does, it gave the omelet a little crunch.

{the never-ending chard. no matter how much I eat, the bowl never gets empty}

Since it looks like I'm going to be eating rainbow chard for the rest of the month, I decided to embrace it and looked for every chard recipe I could possibly find. Looks like this NYTimes columnist found herself with a never-ending basket of chard as well.

I also found this recipe for a swiss chard, brown rice, chickpea dish, which I plan to try this week. It sounds very healthy. It won't count as a local meal under the Challenge because I don't have local sources of chickpeas or rice. After this, I will likely have exhausted my desire to eat chard for a while. I'm really looking forward to late spring and summer for the wider variety of vegetables that come with those seasons.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lazy Garden Weekend

I didn't do much in the garden over the weekend. I meant to start some tomato and pepper seeds but didn't quite get around to it. Maybe next weekend...In the next week or two, once the temperatures aren't fluctuating so much, I also plan to start potatoes!! My husband built me a box to grow them in, inspired by the different ways to grow potatoes that I posted about here. I'll post more about that once I actually start those tubers. 

My outside activity consisted mainly of watching a woodpecker scare the little finches away from my neighbors' birdfeeder and trying unsuccessfully to get a good picture of the many robins hopping around, trying to catch seeds that spill from the feeder. 

In non-garden news, I managed to make my first batch of refried beans.

In typical March fashion, temperatures are ranging from the 60s during the nice sunny days to dropping to around freezing at night. Temperatures grew chilly last night so we moved our broccoli transplants inside for protection. 

Did you get any garden work done this weekend?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dark Days of Winter: Potato and Chard Stalk Gratin

True confessions--I have never eaten chard before. When I saw a beautiful basket of rainbow chard at the farmers' market last week, I decided I needed to introduce myself to it, especially since I had to come up with a vegetarian dish for this week's Dark Days Challenge. The beautifully-colored chard was a great antidote to the Challenge slump I'd written about a month ago. I'm also still working my way through the bag of local potatoes I bought at the farmers' market, so when I found this potato and chard stalk gratin recipe, I thought the combination would be great.

{potato and chard stalk gratin}

In order to comply with the Challenge rules and make up for some poor planning on my part, I made several modifications to the recipe:
  1. I cut the recipe in half.
  2. I don't have local Gruyere cheese, so I decided to use Piedmont, a yummy sheep's milk cheese from the Everona Dairy in VA. (side note: when I pulled Piedmont out of the fridge, it had gotten moldy, and not the good kind of cheese mold (I don't think I stored it properly), and I had to break open another Everona Dairy cheese that I'd been saving for a different recipe. The cheese I ended up using had cracked pepper already in it so I cut down the amount of pepper I put in the gratin).
  3. I excluded garlic because the local cloves I had stored had gone bad as well.
  4. I didn't hunt down a source of local flour for the 2 teaspoons that the recipe calls for to make the bechamel. This plus olive oil, salt, and pepper were the only ingredients that didn't come from my garden or local farmers.
  5. I included a few chard leaves as well, even though the recipe only calls for the stalks.

I am now a fan of chard! I liked it, and still have more leaves to use in another dish. This was also my first attempt at making a gratin, and it turned out really well! However, next time I will make sure I have fresh garlic before I cook because I think the dish could have used some garlic. I'll also add more thyme, more chard leaves, and more pepper. I went light on the pepper because the cheese had black pepper in it, and I was afraid to over-season. But I think it could have used more. I tend to under-season in my cooking.

March is the last month of the Dark Days Challenge. I still have chicken breasts, ground beef, a rib-eye, and some vegetables stored in the freezer for the remainder of my meals. I have found great local sources of eggs, milk, and cheese, so I'm looking forward to the last few weeks. Oh, and I still have about 3 pounds of potatoes left.