Let’s Grow Mushrooms

April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

As a child I never liked mushrooms. Strike that—I never had the opportunity to eat mushrooms because my parents didn’t like them. Entering adulthood I just stayed away from encounters with mushrooms, picking them off the late-night pizzas ordered with friends at college and steering clear of them on Chinese food take-out menus.

Time has moved on, and so have my taste buds. I now love mushrooms. The earthier the mushroom, the better. Every shopping trip sees me sorting through the bins of different kinds. What a silly kid I was, I think as I marvel at the fresh and dried fungi.

This is the year I stop relying so heavily on store-bought mushrooms and I attempt to grow my own. With the popularity of “grow-your-own” everything—from bean sprouts to dinosaur kale to heirloom tomatoes—several different companies now offer grow-your-own mushroom kits. There are two that I know of:

Back to the Roots: Probably the most well-known of the mushroom-growing kits, the Back to the Roots kit promises to produce up to 1.5 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms in about 10 days, and can produce at least two crops worth of mushrooms—maybe even three crops. Each box, which is shaped like a cardboard milk carton, contains 100% recycled plant-based waste which performs as the growing medium. Just open the lid, mist with water, and set it by a sunny window. How convenient to grow indoors!  www.backtotheroots.com

Back to the Roots Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kit

Back to the Roots Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kit

Happy Cat Farm: This organic seed producer from Southeastern Pennsylvania offers a Shiitake Mushroom Log for outdoor mushroom growing. The log comes inoculated with a strain of mushroom spawn. Given proper shade and moisture, the log will produce shiitake mushrooms every 8-12 weeks for several years. Just place the log right on the ground in a place like a shaded mulched planting bed and keep it moist. If it dries out for more than a week, soak the log overnight in a container of water and it’ll be as good as new.  www.happycatorganics.com

Happy Cat Shiitake Mushroom Log

Happy Cat Shiitake Mushroom Log

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Update on Dainty: Where’d June Go?

June 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

Hey, hi. Remember me?

Nope, haven’t forgotten about Dainty Dot. Truly have not. It’s been a bit of a busy month. And I’ve had other things on my mind. Dainty took a backseat for a bit.

A backseat to what, you ask? I’ll review in photos …

Boo kitten

Boo – she’s growing too fast. My iPhone can barely hold all the photos I take of her.

peony

June has so many Instagram opportunities. I can’t keep up. Pretty, huh?

I’ve been perfecting my pizza-making skills. And man, do I have mad skills with the dough.

Provincetown vacationProvincetown. Vacation. Roof deck. Water views. That really about says it.

Cucumber Cape CodderThanks, Martha Stewart, for the most-appropriate Ptown vacation drink—the Cucumber Cape Codder. I’ll post that recipe soon. Really, so good.

yoga matI’m slightly obsessed with yoga. Just slightly, but in a good way. Maybe I’ll talk to you about it someday. But for now, know that this mat has become a good friend of mine. And it’s fashionably orange.

potato flowerSo, I’m a potato farmer’s daughter. And an avid gardener. And for the first time this spring, it dawned on me: Why not grow some potatoes? And it shall be so. Technically once the flowers bloom, there should be potatoes under the ground. But I want them bigger than peas, so I’ll await awhile.

Powahouse Unit X viewOh, yeah, and by the way … we’re buying a brand-spankin’-new unit in a brand-spankin’-new building. New as in, this was a vacant lot last July. And it’s highly energy efficient and will have solar panels and is built like a German tank – and that’s with good reason. Obviously, more on this later.

JenniferAnd have I mentioned lately that I love this person? I do, and I’ll do it all again in a split second. (Ain’t she a cutie, too?)

homemade pizzaMore pizza. I might be slightly obsessed with pizza, too. Always in a good way.

But just because I haven’t been writing here doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’ve been taking a spin at fiction. More of a poetry-short fiction hybrid type of writing. And the cool thing is it’s fiction inspired by photos. The images are all iPhone Instagram pics taken by a friend who has a knack for knowing there’s a story behind a scene. Take this one, for instance. Who left the phone? Why? Who was on the other end? I took a stab at it—and a bunch of other photos, too—and am publishing them at The Skinny Fedora. The one above is “Hope Asked.”

So, give The Skinny Fedora a quick read and let me and the other skinny girl know what you think. Leave comments here or at www.theskinnyfedora.com.

Chive Vinaigrette

April 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

Stones. That’s my usual response to what fills my first harvest in my community garden in early spring. I spend days clearing the surface of these leaden balloons. But not really. They’re always right below the soil, ready to buoy themselves up. Stones float. That’s the only possible reason for their constant surfacing.

This year, though, my garden has a new, less stony epidermis. Long story short, there’s 6 inches of new soil in my garden. Stones, still, but not as in springs past. Give it some time.

This spring’s first harvest is chives. Thrilling, I know. I had never planted them in my plot. They were just sorta there, leftovers from previous gardeners. But just before that 6 inches was layered down, I thought to rescue the just-emerging greeny spikes. And because I gave them a second chase at life, I decided to fulfill their purpose. I decided to use them in some way in my kitchen.

Right. And exactly how would I do this? What does one do with chives, anyway? I’m sure something, but nothing came to mind. Google rescued me, of course, sending me to several different sites. Oh yes, biscuits were made—cheddar-chive biscuits. And a chive chip is on my wait list. But for now, let’s start with something easy. Let’s get all vinaigrette.

Epicurious, thank you for this green-as-goodness dressing. Faced with a minimalistic salad (i.e., I really didn’t have much in the fridge and the salad, therefore, was a bit weak), this vinaigrette perked up what was paltry. You could say, I suppose, that the chives did indeed fulfill their purpose.

Chive Vinaigrette, ala Epicurious:

Chive vinaigrette


  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Blend the first five ingredients in a blender. Just a note here: I used white wine vinegar – didn’t have Champagne vinegar in the house. And show yourself some respect—use a good Dijon.

2. Next up, the oils. With motor running, slowing add in the veg oil and evoo. Hold off on the last quarter of that 1/3 cup evoo. Give it a taste first and see if more is needed.

3. You’re done. Well, not really. Before you’re done, give it a taste. It’ll benefit from a pinch of kosher salt. Or two.

The result: a more-beautiful-than-you-expected green green green dressing with a light but full-flavored expression. But I give you fair warning before you enjoy —you’ll want to be sure the person you kiss next has also partaken. Chives are onions, after all.

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

August 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

Life, sometimes, can get a bit bitter. Thank goodness we have sweets.
Mary Poppins was right about that spoonful of sugar—it helps pretty near everything taste A-okay.

Like my lettuce, for instance. I am still harvesting lettuce from the garden—in mid August! How crazy is that? But, well … it’s up and bolted on me. That’s a gardening term that means that nice compact head of leaf lettuce has sent up a flowering stalk, dragging all those individuals leaves with it. Worse yet, the leaves become bitter.

Now, typically you’d give up the ship at that point. Chuck it to the chickens, maybe. Not Dainty. Waste not, want not. Right? I mean, this’ll be my lunch for the next four days, come on! Keep the bitter stuff!

But I gotta sweeten it up. Maybe a salad dressing …

And then I remember a vinaigrette Giada DeLaurentis made on the Today Show two years ago. Lemon dressing with sweetness brought to you by agave nectar. Pretty darned good, I have to say.

Open hydrator drawers in fridge. No lemon. But there’s a big plump lime?

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette
3 Tbs lime juice
3 Tbs evoo
1.5 Tbs agave nectar

Combine. Shake. Season if you want, or just sprinkle a light dusting of salt and pepper over your salad.

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

Hits the sweet spot without the sugar.

Beets: From Seeds to Roasted

August 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love me some beets. Love love love.

I know beet love is not a universal thing. I don’t belittle that. There are reasons to not like them. Sometimes there’s a metallic dirt after-taste. They can stain your hands—and cutting boards and dish towels—like you just murdered someone and stored them in the freezer. Then there’s that whole … nah, I’m not gonna go there.

My first beet love was a dish an old roommate would make in summer. Fresh, julienned beets with minced garlic, evoo and balsamic. Had a real nice crunch. Tasty, but only if you’re not dating someone.

Jennifer has an awesome beet soup – that’s my second beet love. It has the kitchen sink in it, too. I don’t want to hold out on you, but when the next beet harvest comes along, it’ll go up on Dainty. That okay?

My daily beet love goes out to the roasted variety. Simple. Delicious. And really quite beautiful.

New to Dainty!

Yeah for new! I’m including growing instructions. Yup, that’s what I said. This urban farmer is going to show that you—yes, you, city kid!— can take some seeds, grow them, and put them on your tasty table.

Growing Beets

What you’ll need: Beet seeds. A patch of soil/dirt, or a big, wide, deep container. Some way to water them.

Step 1: Beets can take cool weather. And hot weather, too. Another reason to love them. Get out in the garden early in spring—Aprilish for New England peeps—to sow your seeds. OR, start some seeds in early- to mid-August (ahem, NOW!).

Step 2: Beets’ big bulbousness develops underground, in case you didn’t know. It helps if your soil (I never called it dirt, but you know what I mean) isn’t rock hard. Is your soil like cement? Then go to the DIY store and buy a bag of “garden soil,” spread it on top of your “dirt,” and dig it in with a shovel or hoe. Sounds like work … it is! Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long.

Step 3: Beet seeds. Never beet “seedlings” because root vegetables (like beets and carrots) don’t like to be moved once they begin to grow. So, get yourself some. There’s all different types. Choose whichever tickles your tastebuds.

Step 4: Sow the seeds according to the seed packet instructions. Here’s a tip: Plant them in several rows maybe 6 in. apart and in a chess board-type pattern. You can squeeze more in the space that way.

Step 5: Water the seeds in … gently. And keep the soil moist as they germinate.

Step 6: Now, you’re going to wait weeks and weeks … watering and even fertilizing with an all-purpose fertilizer (go to the store and ask for it – you’ll get something good). Your seedlings may be too close together. And when that happens, the beets under the ground kind of grow into each other. It’s ok to sacrifice some of the smaller seedlings. If one seedling is too close to another, just pull it up and discard.

Just a warning: If you spot something on your beet leaves that look like random squiggly lines, you’ve got a pest called Leafminer. These little guys tunnel between the top and bottom of the leaf surface. Crazy! They are the bane of my spring garden—because they also love spinach and chard. If you spot a leaf with these markings, remove it … from the entire garden! Put it in the trash. Do not compost. You want these suckers dead and gone far away. You’ll eat those beet tops later … or the chard or the spinach. You don’t want these guys getting to it first, do you? If you are so inclined, look along the squiggly line and you just might be able to spot the white-ish larva. It’s really gross. Okay, on second thought, don’t look.

Step 7: As your beets get bigger—yay, how awesome is that?!—they may push themselves a bit above ground. Just lightly cover with some surrounding soil to keep the beet covered. Don’t want it to get sunburned, right?

Step 8: Harvest! Pull those beets up whenever you want. You can get a good idea of the size by taking your finger and going around the top of the beet under the soil. After a few months you’ll have small beets that will be good for pickling. Three months, and you’ll get a decent beet—the size you’ll see at a market. Don’t go for massive. No one needs massive beets.

Beets and chard

Beets! and chard, too.

Step 9: Time to roast!

Roasted Beets

  • beets, 3-4
  • olive oil
  • course salt, pepper

-Set oven to 425F. Cut off a 1 ft. length of aluminum foil, place in a cast iron pan.

-Wash beets. Cut off tops just above beet. Reserve beet tops for … well, you can saute them for pasta or as a side dish …

-Arrange beets on the foil. Glug olive oil on top of each beet – don’t need a whole lot. Sprinkle with salt and a turn of pepper. Fold foil around the beets so they are snug in the packet. You’ll want the moisture to stay inside.

beets

Beets oiled and seasoned

-Slide into the oven. Cook 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When are they done? When you can just insert a paring knife deep into its heart.

-When the knife slides in, remove the pan. Let cool until the beets can be handled. Actually, just wait until they are room temp. The skins of beet will be soooo much easier to remove when they are completely cool. And then just rub off the skins! For a cool visual, you can keep the short tops on the beet and rub the rest of the skin away if you want.

Beets, cooling.

Beets, cooling.

What to do next? Store in sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Cube or slice and eat with salads. Goat cheese is in love with beets, too, so be sure to pair them whenever you can.

Peeled beets

Naked beets, ready to be sliced or cubed. How beautiful!

Beets on a salad

Roasted beets are fabulous on a salad.

The Really Slow Food Movement

March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Slow food – either in the home or in a restaurant – is something I believe in. It’s flavorful, aromatic, enjoyable and really hits all the senses. I get that – and I absolutely love it.

I am, however, a big big believer in the really sloooow food movement. In fact, I’m working on a spinach salad right now. Should be ready in about 40 days, if we get some good weather.

You guessed it – I’m growing the spinach myself.

Spinach is one of those cool-season crops that you can start as early as March. It’s a tough character and can take chilly weather. Think of it as a Patriots linesman at Gillette in January with short sleeves and lovin’ it. Yes, it’s mild outside today – what plant doesn’t love 65F? – but temps will drop, believe me. And spinach will be able to handle the temp fluctuations.

I have a garden plot in the Washington-Rutland Community Garden – aka the Gazebo Garden – right across the street from Flour Bakery in the South End. Our plot is one of about 40 in the fenced-in lot, former site of I believe three rowhouses from back in the day. At roughly 15 ft x 30 ft, it’s one of the largest plots in the garden. And, after more than three decades as a community garden, I’m still finding bits of broken glass and the occasional spark plug while digging around.

 

My garden plot is within the two railroad ties on the left and right, and ends right beyond that white bag.

I know I said spinach can handle coldish weather, but it certainly does respond when given a bit of warmth. I’m helping my spinach seeds along by creating some warmth with a coldframe. This is the concept: It’s an enclosed space topped with a clear material like glass or plastic. When I was a kid my parents made a coldframe by creating a rectangle with hay bales and then putting old glass windows on top. Sunlight comes in, heats up the space, and the plants grow while the air outside is still chilly.

Hay bales? Old window frames? I’m not down on the farm anymore – I needed to find another solution.

Last year I made a 2ft x 3ft x 2ft wooden box, filled it with organic soil and grew my carrots in it. Why I did that is a story for another time. But, there it was, sitting there in my garden, unused and topless. And I had one of those light-bulb-going-on-over-my-head moments: Put a piece of plexiglass on top and make a coldframe!

My awesome coldframe!

So, the plexiglass top has been in place since Sunday, covering newly sown rows of carrots and spinach. I checked on it today and the soil was nice and warm – something that seeds trying to germinate would really appreciate. I propped the lid open just a tad, too. More for the photo than to cool down the interior. And, because the top was on during Wednesday’s rain, I had to water it, too.

So, here it is propped open. In a perfect world, the plexiglass would be attached to the frame and there would be a device that would allow the top to be opened in varying increments. Actually, in a perfect world the top would open automatically in response to a solar and temperature sensor. But, this’ll do.

About those spinach seeds: I sowed just one row last Sunday. This weekend I’ll sow another, and so on until the end of April. That way I’m not stampeded by a crop of spinach all at once. I may let the first two batches mature in the box but eventually the box will fill up. At that time I’ll just transplant the seedlings out into the ground. If this year’s crop is anything like last year’s, I may have some to share with you.

Fresh, Homegrown Parsley

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.”

Parsley harvested in November still going strong in January, thanks to some prepping tips.

That’s from my “Linguine with Clam Sauce: The Payoff” post. I had bragged about how our homegrown parsley is like Methuselah—it just keeps on keepin’ on even after being in our fridge for nearly two months. What the hell kinda parsley are we using, after all? Plastic?

No, not plastic. In fact, it’s one of those no-named varieties of flat-leafed parsley seedlings we bought from a pop-up garden center back in May. It’s the most gutsy plant we have in our community garden plot, and we couldn’t kill it if we tried. I planted pretty much every seedling that was broadcast-sown in the 4-in. pot we purchased—and every single plant survived.

Here are the growing instructions: Nothing special; water now and then.

I’m not kidding you. Nothing special. And, as a result, the two rows of parsley grew into a small hedge. In fact, it’ll probably come back from the dead when the soil warms this spring.

Just as the living stuff is indestructible, so too is the harvested parsley. Here’s how we prepared and stored the herb:

  • Gently wash with cold water.
  • Remove stems. Reserve stems for your stash of veggies for making veggie stock.
  • Lay leaves flattish on towel to air dry excess water. Best thing about parsley as a plant is that it’s sturdy—it’ll dry before it begins to wilt.
  • Once dry, store loosely in zip-lock freezer bag. Put in refrigerator. Since the storage bags are a bit thicker, I think that helps prolong the parsley’s life.

We also stashed six or eight of these zip-locks in the freezer, where it forms frozen sheets. When we run out of the fresh stuff, we’ll break off a corner of the frozen parsley sheet and add it to soups, stews, pasta, and so forth.

More importantly, this is what we DON’T do: Store the parsley wet, wrapped in a moist paper towel in a sealed bag. The humidity just seems to build up along the bag’s sides, eventually making the leaves black and slimy. Sure, we’ll do this if we’re in a hurry or we know we’ll use the whole batch quickly. But it’s not something I’d do for long-term storage.

Will our parsley-storage technique work with the store-bought stuff? I don’t know—we haven’t had to buy the fresh stuff in years. But please do give it a try and let Dainty Dot know the results.

And did I mention, we also have fresh dill from the garden still going strong in the fridge, as well? It’s like a magic tomb, that refrigerator of ours.

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