Wasps & Worms, Sprouts & Seedlings

This blog entry was started on Tuesday 2/15, but here it is Saturday night and I still haven't finished it.

Kelly has been working on wasp-proofing the past few days. The wasps get in between the boards that make up the outside covering of the house, and last summer, every time you'd go in or out, they'd buzz around and be a bother. Kelly was stung a few times. Monty, the guy who has done so much work for us here, was stung a few times too. They've dive-bombed me a bunch of times, somehow managed to avoid getting stung, but my fear of flying-things-that-can-potentially-hurt-you is so great that I would avoid going outside. Kelly has put a lot of effort to make the house less hospitable to wasps, and I'm really grateful. I hope it works.

I gave a cooking lesson on Saturday 2/12. Cute couple, and they were a lot of fun. This was from a gift certificate that's a few months old. I've got a bunch of outstanding certificates, and I usually have to remind folks to cash it in.Here was the menu:
Herb-Stuffed Mushroom Caps
Brie-Stuffed Figs over Mixed Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Braciole with Penne in a rich tomato sauce
Grilled Zucchini Planks
Roasted Cauliflower
Even though we halved the recipe, there was still enough tiramisu for them to have it for dessert two more nights. We made a large pot of tomato sauce for the braciole, and that's always better the next day, so they'll have a few more good meals ahead of them.

Kelly's been eating well, too. In an effort to make menu planning easier, I wrote down a bunch of our household favorites on the backs of old business cards. He picks out 5 or 6 things at a time, and I base my shopping list on those menus. After we eat those selections, the cards go in the "used" pile, and are out of circulation until the rest of the options have been used. This keeps things interesting for me, and gives him a wide array of things to choose from, so he's not asking for the same thing every week. :-) Here's what's on board for this week:
Bulgur & Mushroom Pilaf, Swiss Chard
Eggplant and Sweet Potato Curry
Tomato & Coconut Chicken
Pan-Seared Trout, Roasted Cauliflower, Baked Potato
Spaghetti & Meatballs, with Broccoli
Roast Turkey, Rice & Gravy, Sautéed Spinach with Garlic
Chili & Cornbread
Usually we round out the meals with a green salad. I try to not make more than our two servings so there aren't a lot of leftovers laying around. Lately we've been having soups for lunch, and those will migrate to salads as the weather gets warmer.

A funny thing happened tonight though: He had chosen Egg Foo Yung for this past week. You cannot find bean sprouts in Pulaski. They are not available for sale at the center of the universe walmart. It's no big deal to make sprouts, since I have mung beans, (mung are traditionally what are sprouted and sold commercially. They're small dark green beans, about half the size of a pea, used a lot in Indian cooking, but I also see them in asian markets... and I also sprouted some red lentils and some adzuki beans.) The only problem is that I had to keep putting off making the egg foo yung since I had to wait the 8 days for the beans to sprout to where they're good to eat. So anyway, today was the 8th day, and we were doing stuff around the house (Kelly cutting wood for the SuperHighIntensityTechnique boxes and I was relocating the wire rack from the utility room to the kitchen so i could put herbs & lettuces in a sunny window) and I realized it was time to start prepping for dinner. I got all my ingredients together, and started making food. I called Kelly to the table, and put his dish in front of him, and he said, "Hey, this doesn't look like Egg Foo Yung!"

Well, it wasn't. I had "accidentally" made Pad Thai.
Egg Foo YungPad Thai
Bean SproutsBean Sprouts
...fried in oil...fried in oil
spices, flavorings, etc.spices, flavorings, etc.
My brain kind of short circuited or something, because I had a one-track-mind to make Pad Thai and it was quite a shock to realize that, at that moment he pointed it out, we weren't eating Egg Foo Yung!

It was still really really good. Since I didn't make the rice that goes with it (Pad Thai is made with rice noodles, which cook in about 4 mins), it got on the table a lot faster. Luckily, I have enough sprouts left that I could still make Egg Foo Yung for dinner tomorrow, so I'll have a chance to redeem myself. I'll remember to make rice before I start.


Kelly and I have spent the past several evenings with our laptops, planning out the garden. It's 75x25 feet. Huge for a potager, but small for a farm! We've plotted all 1875 sq ft on a grid, down to the bee-attracting flowers. We'll be sowing seeds acquired from a wide array of sources: some are bona-fide heirlooms purchased from the Internet, some are saved from grocery-store produce (yes, it works), and others were from packets bought at the dollar store or the drugstore.

We've got over 130 different types of seed! Of course, many of them are essentially different varieties of the same vegetable (for example, 4 carrot, 6 onion, 7 peppers, 8 brassicas [chard/cauliflower/broccoli] and 5 potato) but each vegetable group has its own schedule for planting. Leeks need to be sown NOW, in February, even though we can't transplant them for 6 weeks. We shouldn't put a watermelon seed in dirt until after April 1st. Tomatoes MUST be started early, but not TOO early, or they'll get "leggy" and they won't survive the transplant.

The other thing that we spent a lot of time on was figuring out what we can do to maximize our desired results. Let's take beets, for example... and permit me to use round numbers in this example... If we want to eat fresh beets in the summer, and still have enough for canning and pickling for wintertime, we need to come up with about 100 beets. If we sow 125 seeds, we'll probably have about 100 to transplant. If those 100 seedlings need to be spaced at 4" apart after transplantation, how much of the 5-foot wide plot should we plant? Now do this for broccoli, cucumbers, melons, peppers, onions.....and so on. We plotted this all out on a spreadsheet, so now it's just a matter of waiting for the right moment to sow and keeping track of transplanting dates. I'm trying to not think of all the time I'll be on my hands & knees in the garden, but at least I'll feel confident that I'm doing the work as efficiently as I can. The planning and researching time will pay off in better results. We just don't have the years of experience it takes to be great farmers, but I've been studying! I'm trying to learn the folklore like "Do not sow the seeds of beans, cucumbers, squash or melons until the apple trees have dropped their blossoms." and "Onion tops will begin to turn yellow & fall over when mature. At this time, push the tops over with the back of a rake. This will force the bulbs into their final maturing stage." I know so much more about what each type of plant needs to flourish, and how to care for each plant... which means there will be more food to enjoy eating!

I need get my hands on "crowns" of asparagus and rhubarb, as I understand are damn-near-impossible to start from seed. They need to get in the ground sooner-than-later, since they take a few years to get established enough to harvest. There are some things it's NOT worth growing; we're not going to grow any mushrooms, citrus, or grains like wheat or rice*, so we're not going to be totally self-sufficient, but I think we'll be off to a good start.

I've conceded to having chickens again, but just for the eggs (...we did eat that one rooster, though). I think that this year we'll limit our non-canine menagerie to those worms I've been keeping to process kitchen waste (the rest will get fed to the chickens) just because they're self-maintaining, and that rich dirt will go back in the garden and the flower planters around the house.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and we'll finish the S.H.I.T.-boxes and fill them with topsoil. Once I've sown them, they'll go in the greenhouse and turn into lovely little seedlings. I've got to find some setup so i can grow herbs and lettuces in the kitchen, but that can wait.

On Monday, I've scheduled a meeting with a guy at M@rtin Meth0dist Co||ege to see if it makes sense to try and hire any of the students as culinary assistants for catering. I'll keep you posted.

*we're growing corn to be eaten as a vegetable not as a grain, so no smart-alec comments, please.

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