Tag Archives: winter

The Creek in Winter

It was bitterly cold when the pup and I set out this morning.

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A skin of ice clung to the edge of the creek.

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The pup, of course, was still interested in taking a dip.

This did not happen.

I spent several long seconds being snubbed.

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A few yards inland, and the marsh mud was frozen solid.

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We climbed up an observation tower to see above the Phragmites.

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The higher we climbed, the more blue sky we could see.

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Warm weather was creeping towards us.

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Back home, the earth was softening in the sunshine.

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Pink and yellow emerge from  brown and grey.

20130210-135214.jpgAnother morning,

another walk,

another season has begun.

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Smashed Sunchokes

Every so often, we get a vegetable from the CSA that is a little daunting to use.  I’ve been perplexed by Romanesco, celery root, and black radish at first.  There have been vegetables that I’ve been just overwhelmed with when the season and conditions were so perfect for them that they produced in abundance. (See anything I wrote about squash last year, but also I usually get fed up with lettuce and any baby greens by the middle of May)  But even those things were either stored or grated into stir-fries or stews or salads so that nothing went to waste.  The only vegetable that consistently stumped me was the sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the Sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the sunchoke.

For some reason, when I’ve researched recipes for the sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem Artichoke) I found only old-style techniques that involved peeling it, which was frustrating and wasted lots of the vegetable because of all the deep crevices.  And the recipes were either bland (boiling it and serving with salt and pepper) or seemed intent on disguising its mild flavor completely (gratin and hot sauce). The time and effort just didn’t seem worth the result.  It wasn’t until this week that I learned that peeling is optional (!) which made me far more patient with experimenting with its unique and delicate flavor.  The result is a side dish that’s as comforting as a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, but with less work, more fiber, and less calories.  I think I’ve found a new vegetable to love…finally.

Smashed Sunchokes

  • Clean equal-ish  amounts of sunchokes and potatoes.  Leave the skins on :) You may need to cube the potatoes if they are large…the pieces of potatoes and sunchokes should be roughly the same size.
A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

  • Fill a large pot with water, salted if you wish, and get those tubers boiling.  Keep them going until fork-tender, then drain.
About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on.  Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on. Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

  • Put the empty pot back on a low burner.  Toss in some real butter and swizzle around the bottom of the pot.  Then dump the veggies back in, and smash with an old-fashioned potato masher.  The idea is to soften everything into comfort-food consistency, but still have lumps.  Why?  Well, the peels and the sunchokes will not get as smooth as the potatoes.  Don’t even try.  Go for lumps, and celebrate them.  Salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particulary pretty.  But your tummy will think they're beautiful.

Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particularly pretty. But your tummy will think they’re beautiful.

I am really happy that I have finally made peace with the sunchoke, as it’s practically the definition of eating locally and seasonally in Anne Arundel County.  They were being cultivated by the Native Americans when the first explorers came here.  The plants, which look like very tall, multi-stemmed sunflowers, grow prolifically in our climate.  They are perennial, so they will come back year after year, with little work on the gardener’s part.  And they are easy to store…just  leave them in the ground until you are hungry!  They will keep until mid-February, when they start to sprout.  Or store them at home however you store your potatoes.  Fresh vegetables all winter long…and no canning or peeling required!

Please share any recipes that you have for sunchokes.  I’m eager to expand my recipe base for these slightly lemon-y, slightly potato-y, low carb vegetable.

 

 

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Parsley in the Snow

The No-Acre Homestead has been in a winter lull, but things are stirring, and growing season has never really stopped here.  We woke up to some unexpected snow this morning, but the earth has already been warmed by the past few 60+ degree days.  There’s no stopping Spring now.

Coolest crocus ever....and in more ways than one!  Bursting through the snow,  it's sunny-yellow petals are veined with a unique purple color.

Coolest crocus ever….and in more ways than one! Bursting through the snow, it’s sunny-yellow petals are veined with a unique purple color.

Early last year, we turned an awkward parking space into our vegetable garden.  (“Potager“, I would prefer to call it, if I knew for sure how to pronounce it.)  Growing vegetables in the shaded, north-facing backyard was always a struggle.  The sunny driveway spot was too skinny for opening car doors, and always required juggling vehicles anyway.  We decided to rip it up and put in some raised beds.

Our Driveway Garden succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.  And, although a vegetable patch like this is not strictly to our local covenants, we received nothing but appreciative curiosity from the neighbors.

I decided to see if I could put it to work year-round.

The famed Driveway Garden at the No-Acre Homestead.  Blanketed in snow, but still productive.  An unusual use for a parking space, but far more useful to us.

The famed Driveway Garden at the No-Acre Homestead. Blanketed in snow, but still productive. An unusual use for a parking space, but far more useful to us.

My intention was to have actual cold frames constructed to keep temperature and headroom consistent for the plants.  I designed the frames and got the materials.  Unfortunately, my coordination weakened just at the wrong time for little projects like this.  Plastic sheeting and bricks from the walkway were used for this season, but I plan on taking the time this year to make the cold frames in advance.

Despite the gerry-rigged shelter, the Driveway Garden is still producing food for us.

Red cabbage thrives through winter.  It was planted into a raised bed filled with compost.  The wire is to keep the neighborhood cat out.

Red cabbage thrives through winter. It was planted into a raised bed filled with compost. The wire is to keep the neighborhood cat out.

Although I didn’t get around to transplanting two pots of hot peppers (unknown name), I did think to shelter them in the sunniest corner, and insulate them with a pile of dirt.  These have been going into our chilis and stir-fries all Winter.  Between these and what I intentionally dried in the fall, I hope to have enough hot pepper to take us through next harvest season.

Searingly-hot peppers may be creating their own micro-climate in this corner of the Driveway Garden.

Searingly-hot peppers may be creating their own micro-climate in this corner of the Driveway Garden.

This is the first year I have ever tried to save our own seeds.  I did get a bit off-track, and I still don’t have a corner set up to keep seedlings.  We’ll see how I do with this experiment in a few weeks, when things sprout (or not).  In the meantime, I have garlic and potatoes starting.  The garlic ‘could’ have been planted in December.  But I didn’t get around to it.  It looks like it is happy enough for now.  The great part about raised beds is that the dirt has been fluffy all winter.  I can go out with a spoon and plant a few cloves whenever I get a spare moment.

The garlic and potatoes seem happy to share a bowl on the windowsill. I plan on planting that garlic any second now...

The garlic and potatoes seem happy to share a bowl on the windowsill. I plan on planting that garlic any second now…

I am completely in love with the ability to reach out the front door and grab some parsley or lettuce right out of the snow.  Just wait til you see my plans for next year!

Buttercrunch lettuce and parsley, ready for picking. They've gone all winter without any human intervention under their plastic tent.

Buttercrunch lettuce and parsley, ready for picking. They’ve gone all winter without any human intervention under their plastic tent.

Does anyone else do small-space gardening?  Sneaky front-yard gardening?  What about starting seeds?  I’m eager to hear your ideas and experiences!

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Brown Rice Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Despite the shenanigans of the past week, it seems that nothing is ever so stressful that it puts me off my feed!  Thank goodness for our winter CSA, and relationships with local farmers.  Instead of completely reverting to processed junk food during trying times, I can still make satisfying comfort food using healthful ingredients.  My waistband may not know the difference, but at least my liver should be grateful that I’m pigging out on seasonal and chemical-free food.  This concoction was inspired both by an old stand-by of mine from my misguided high-carb youth, and a recent kale-and-bacon recipe from Things My Belly Likes.

What could be more comforting during these cold, wet days of winter than a warm meal based on pork, cheese, and pasta?

Brown Rice Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet, brown 1/2 pound of crumbled Italian sausage.  Add finely sliced onions and diced mushrooms, and 4 cups of cleaned, chopped kale. (No, it’s not too much kale, trust me!)  Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.  Toss together, cover the skillet, and turn the heat to low.

Four cups of kale cooks down and snuggles in with sausage, onions, and mushrooms.

Four cups of kale cooks down and snuggles in with sausage, onions, and mushrooms.

In a medium pot, cook 1/2 package of brown rice spaghetti according to directions.  Meanwhile, grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and thinly slice the green stalks of 4-6 scallions.

The brown rice pasta makes this dish gluten-free.  Feel free to substitute wheat products if you are not sensitive.

The brown rice pasta makes this dish gluten-free. Feel free to substitute wheat products if you are not sensitive.

Drain the cooked pasta, and add a touch more olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.  Toss the pasta in with the sausage/kale mixture until well-coated.  Add the scallions and Parmesan.  Serve with crushed hot pepper.

There are so many layers of texture and flavor in this two-pot recipe.  So rich and comforting!

There are so many layers of texture and flavor in this two-pot recipe. So rich and comforting!

This makes a main course for two people.  If these two people are extra-hungry, add a fresh salad made of hoop-house greens tossed with oil and vinegar with some finely-chopped fresh winter veggies. If you are really watching your carbs, you could eliminate the pasta entirely, and just add a few more cups of kale to the original skillet (and cut down the housekeeping to just one dirty pot, to boot!)

Enjoy, and stay warm.

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Small Stone

It is still raining.
Mud bubbles up and runs through the herb garden.
Among the sodden brown stalks, buttons of green nose upwards.
It is winter here, but underground, spring is beginning.

(today’s entry for the 2013 Mindful Writing Challenge)

And please do follow the link to read some truly wonderful examples of literary brevity!

(Update: once again, The Daily Prompt is reading my mind. I’ve written about rain, mud, and home for over a week now. Finally, today, January 18, the rain has stopped. For today, at least, I will enjoy the sunshine.)

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Small Stone

Primroses bloom in the dry dirt along the bricks. There is no shelter for their riot among the quiet ferns. The sunshine circus so welcome in spring, in winter distracts like strands of tarnished tinsel.

(entry for The 2013 Mindful Writing Challenge)

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Small Stone

Where the dirt trail dips, a wooden bridge sprouts between leaf-strewn hills.  The way is narrow, the rails mere placemarkers between dry footing and the marsh below.  Repairs are made each spring, but as the seasons move forward, firm boards become soft, joists creak, and surfaces become slick with moss.

It is winter now, and each solid heel-strike feels like a triumph over time.

(today’s entry for the 2013 Mindful Writing Challenge)

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Small Stone

It is the winter of a new year, but outside, the air is unexpectedly soft.  Turning my face towards the sun, I notice buds, green and rose, against the blue sky.

I’m not sure how I feel about this season out of time.

(today’s Mindful Writing Challenge entry)

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

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Growing up, winter was gray. Cold seeped up from the cracked concrete, through cinder block walls, through single-paned and oh-so-cold metal framed windows. Cold, and gray, until the snow came sometime around Thanksgiving. The snow was sparkling and beautiful, even as it became layered with city grime. No matter how caked in dirt, snow still had some mysterious way of collecting bits of light and bouncing it back. Winter was my favorite season. Once the snow came, everything was hidden, so anything was possible.

Moving South, living in the suburbs, putting in time on the planet and maybe even global warming have changed what winter looks like for me. It seems the cold comes from my bones as much as anyplace else these days. Snow is infrequent, fleeting, and cause for alarm down here. Where winter once was defined by shades of white and gray, softened shapes, and muffled sounds, it now is a season of heightened contrast.

Even where I have tried to control my environment, I haven’t been able to create softness. Instead…Sticky mud and shards of ice. The backyard shorn of its low green billows, sharp outlines of man-made structures at center stage. Most plants are rightly dead or dormant in December, yet the Nandina and the Camellia have burst into life. I didn’t plan to have red berries, pink flowers, green leaves and a blue door stack up like that in our tiny space. Despite my calendars and graph paper, Nature still had her way.

Winter is still my favorite season. It’s just the colors are not what I expected.

(This post was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge)

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