Archive for June 2010

Trigger Finger

I hit the "Publish Post" button way too quickly sometimes.

After posting the other day saying that the Gladiolus at Mr. Yogato were, like, mostly boring, I got smacked in the face with this flower. I didn't have my camera on me, so the photo is from my mobile phone, but damn, that's an awesome colour and size! This one hadn't bloomed last year, either, but I'm glad the bulbs survived over winter! Best dollar store purchase ever!

In the background? Yeah. That's my grape vine! It's doing swell--much better than anything else in the Mr. Yogato garden at the moment! (Other than the Gladioluses of course.)

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Canada, Eh?

I'm headed to Canuckistan for a wedding this week. In my absence, here are some pictures of pretty flowers!

These "Diablo" Cosmos were grown from seed and transplanted to my community garden plot. They are blooming profusely, now, and do make fine cut flowers. They only last a day or so, however... So I leave them on the plant for prolonged beauty!

In the background? "Cheyenne Bush" pumpkin. Hell yeah!

The strawberry patch of my community garden is now a no-plants land full of Bermuda grass, mock strawberry, and other stupid invasive plants. It also has nice morning glories, flowering and bein' all pretty-like.

The Oxalis I got from the woman who gave me her seed collection is now flowering in my office! I left the dead EcoTulips after they bloomed for "architectural interest" is what I tell my coworkers. I actually do think that the dried tan stalks add interest to my office jungle, but really, I just haven't gotten around to removing the pots and storing the bulbs.

These Episcia in my office are blooming! They were offshoots from the one I have at home, which is stockier and more brown than pink. These ones in my office are leggy, but healthy-looking. And now, flowering!

This beautiful Gladiolus didn't bloom in front of Mr. Yogato last year, but this year, it has two wonderfully coloured spikes of red flowers. There are a few others in bloom, too, but they're yellow and cream. That means "yawn."

Mr. Yogato also just celebrated its second birthday this past weekend. I hope my plants survived! I haven't had time to stop by and check on them much this year, because of volunteering and twice-broken collarbone. The drought conditions and intense heat make it pretty necessary for me to check on them pretty much every day, but it just hasn't happened. The grapes are doing excellently, at least, but there's a bare patch of ground where the bush pumpkin died from lack of being watered. Ah well--the spearmint will take over soon enough!


Award-Winning Photography

After learning a few lessons about taking good photographs from the Washington Gardener photo contest and a photographer friend, I went out and tried to get more interesting shots. I think I got a few good ones, and when I posted them, Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener, commented that I should check out the "Signs of Spring" photo contest for a local community paper, the Takoma Voice.

This was way back in the when, but Kathy tweeted me at one point, letting me know that I had won! I was excited. Then I kind of forgot about it, because I had it in my head that the newspaper people would get ahold of me. I called them a few times weeks later trying to get a copy of the issue that the picture was printed in, and finally they said I could just come down to the office and pick up my prize.

I didn't know there were prizes involved! I now have a nice T-shirt that says "!Viva la Republica Popular de Takoma Park!" which I think is cute, and an expired certificate for a free year's subscription to Washington Gardener. I think had it been mailed or picked up the moment the issue came out, I would have redeemed it, but I don't begrudge the price of subscription renewal to Kathy. She prints a cool magazine, and it's worth the $20 for the year.

But, besides that--I can now say I'm an award-winning photographer! I think that's kinda cool. Maybe this year, I'll try to get more interesting photographs for the next Washington Gardener photo contest!


What Makes Me Happy

During the past few weeks, I have been kind of, well, busy, to say the least, and little of it had to do with gardening. But, plants make me happy and keep me level. Plants that survive in my care make me even more happy. Plants that thrive make me feel something akin to euphoria. Maranta leuconeura v. erythroneura and Ledebouria socialis can't keep me happy each and every day; that's why I'm glad I have other plants that do fun things!

First and foremost, the Sinningia I bought last December has come back bigger, badder, and beautifuller than ever! After its weeklong dormancy, the bugger popped right back up and grew like crazy. Now, it's flowering like crazy!

Yes. I have a dwarf lime from a mail-order company. Yes, it has a little lime on it. The lime should grow to full size--it's just the plant that's supposed to be dwarf.


My Amorphophallus konjac has a gigantic leaf! Yeah, that's all one leaf, it's just highly segmented. Kind of like parsley, I guess, except probably not as tasty. I think this leaf is totally beautiful--so full, green, and pretty!

This isn't a plant, but it's on a plant! I saw it early this year, and it made me happy to walk by.

This also made me happy, although I'm certain those plants came from Home Despot. I hate that store... I walk in, knowing I'm going to hate the experience. I get frustrated, hate the experience, and stomp out, snubbing the corporation by not purchasing anything. I know they don't have anything I truly want... But I keep going, assuming they will. I know better--Logan Hardware can just special order anything for me, but for some reason, I don't take advantage of that without first getting mildly irritated by Home Despot first.

But... Even so, I can chuckle at this photo. It will help keep me sane through tomorrow, hopefully! Anyone in the DC area should come check out the Pride Festival. And recycle, of course.


Foodie Fights: Weed Pizza

I know this will be a big disappointment to many, but there's nothing illegal or mind-altering in my yummilicious dish. I mean, except for the insane rush of endorphins released upon biting into this delicious creation, that is.

This is my second Foodie Fights battle entry. When I saw last week that this battle involved dandelion greens, I was sold! What gardener wouldn't want to compete in an online Iron Chef competition that involved eating a leafy garden pest? (By the way, voting starts on Tuesday is going on right now! Y'know, vote for me. Er, for your favourite dish, I mean [me]. is over. Thank you all who voted--I got third place [again!]. I'm happy with that--these contests are fun!)

I took that gardener's delight in eating problem plants a little further, however--I ate several leafy garden pests in one dish!

A quick warning: I harvested all of my "weeds" from places that I knew had not been sprayed with chemicals (either fertilizers or pesticides). Be careful where you harvest. It might look appetizing sitting there growing in your neighbour's lawn, but you might not know what's on it!

Another quick warning--this post is long. Skip the first set of pictures and captions if you want to go right to the recipe. I wanted to give some background on the edible weeds that I used/wanted to use for this dish, and I have a bonus recipe at the end, too.

The garden villains (slash the yummy ingredients):

Lambsquarter (there are a lot of things called "lambsquarter" [or "lambsquarters"] or "goosefoot." All of the ones I found are at least in the Chenopodium genus.) is a delicious green and a prolific weed. It tastes pretty much like lettuce, but a bit more... Solid? Earthy? It just has more flair than lettuce, less crisp, but much better everything else. The only problem I have cooking with this fellow is the stem is pretty thick, and it's annoying having to rip off the leaves or young shoots one by one.

Chickweed has a cute name, although some might find it disempowering. It reminds me of my mother, not for the reason one might assume (she's a chick), but because one of her nicknames when she was younger was "Chickadee," and I believe that was her code name the first time we went to laser tag together. After that, she always signed up as Dark Angel. I wonder, sometimes, what happened to her during that first game to make her so intense in subsequent ones... War changes people.

(Most) Chickweed is Stellaria (media?). I'm not sure what kind this is. To be honest, it might not be chickweed. I didn't have pictures with me when I harvested... But, it's definitely at least a relative, and edible (or, I ate it. Hah!). A lot of things might look similar to edibles but aren't and could be very uncomfortable for you, however... I maybe should have done my research to confirm it was okay to eat before I had consumed this plant.

And this is some of the dandelion I harvested (not to be confused with catsear, which is related and edible, but not as bitter-tasting or angular). I pulled up some dandelion from a neighbour's yard (I admire his ornamental grasses), as well as from my community garden plot. I also got a root... You'll see what I did with that down at the bottom! (It's great. It's worth the wait. You'll be excited. Go there now!)

This here is garlic mustard in its full glory--ripe with seed pods. Alliaria petiolata is on the National Park Service's Least Wanted list, as is the purportedly edible (although probably uncomfortable because of the insane number of barbs all over the plant) Mile-A-Minute (Persicaria perfoliata). It was a little late to harvest this garlic mustard for pesto; I should have gone a month or so ago, maybe even earlier, to pick this incredibly invasive biennial plant's leaves prior to it flowering and getting all mature. When rubbed, the leaves usually smell like garlic. These older, dying leaves smell like... Well... Leaves.

Garlic mustard doesn't seem to be toxic (good thing, too, because people seem to be eating it left and right! Especially in pesto.). It is an incredibly invasive weed, however, so eating it is a good way to help keep it in check! Just like kudzu!

I didn't harvest this garlic mustard to make pesto for the pizza--I ended up using garlic scapes. But I will remember next year, in early to mid spring, to harvest garlic mustard enough to make large quantities of pesto for keeping throughout the year!

For those of you patient enough to read through all that edible weed information, here is your reward: the cooking! When I cook, I don't exactly follow recipes. Some consider this a downfall, but I consider it art. I like to create, I like to experience new foods... And I'm impatient. If I want to make bagels and I don't have half of the ingredients, well, by the gods, I'm going to make bagels with whatever I have! That is my approach to cooking, and although replication is an issue, every dish is a worthwhile adventure. It is never boring! (It's also rarely measured--you won't see precise measurements in my "recipe." I will give guidelines about what I did, but adjust it to what you think your taste would be.)

The two Battle Dandelion Greens & Parmesan ingredients.

And then, the rest! A friend who used to be a chef told me that I was crazy and doing too much for this battle, so I scaled it back. I have here (starting at the left), a bowl of water and yeast, pepper, salt, an onion, a bell pepper, olive oil, whole wheat flour, dandelion greens, a dandelion root, parmesan, two types of sage leaves from my community garden and some curly parsley from Mr. Yogato resting atop Stony Man sheep cheese from Everona Dairy, garlic scapes, chickweed, lambsquarter, chives, sugar, agave nectar, and sunflower seeds.

To start, I put 1 packet (1 tablespoon) of yeast in about 3/4 cup of warm water with maybe 1 tablespoon of agave nectar and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. I let it sit for much longer than it should have, because I got distracted (a theme of the night).

One of the distractions was boiling the dandelion greens. I tossed let's say about two handfuls of unchopped dandelion greens into a pot of boiling water and let it cook for a few minutes, until they were dark green and pretty tender. Then, I sliced 'n' diced 'em in the food processor, using a bit of the yeast water for the dough to help move things around. Then, I added the diced bits of dandelion greens to the dough.

I added enough flour to the yeast/water/dandelion greens mixture to form a pizza dough. It was several cups--3 to 4, although I just added about 1/2 a cup at a time until it was doughlike. Then I oiled a bowl, coated the dough, and let it sit covered with a towel for much longer than I should have (I got distracted again).

While waiting for the dough to rise (and the distractions), I chopped the pepper, tomato, and onion, sprinkled with olive oil, dusted with pepper and salt, and roasted at 250 Fahrenheit (although, anyone who follows my blog regularly knows that my oven is related to the Devil and I must bake with the door open) until they were yummilicious. And yummilicious they were! I was on the phone and sounded almost piglike while scarfing down what I didn't use to top the pizza...!

The garlic scapes (a little over a cup after getting chopped up a bit), sunflower seeds (about 1/4 cup), the seven or so sage leaves, and parmesan (about 1/4 cup, too) were pureed in the food processor with olive oil (enough to get the thickness you like in your pesto--I like mine thick and chunky!).

I guess I didn't take a picture, but after making pesto, I boiled the chickweed and lambsquarter as well. They both seem to be able to be used as spinach, and I figured a little brief boil would be in order before cooking. I squeezed them a bit over the sink to remove as much excess water as I could.

After letting the dough rise (for, like, 3 hours--about an hour and a half longer than I should have, I'd wager, but I was distracted), I kneaded it and rolled it out into a pie pan (I lack pizza-baking supplies). I like my crusts thick, so this was perfect for me, but others could easily make it less thick! I baked the dough for about 10 minutes at 300 (again, door was open) to get it a bit crisp before I put the toppings on. I smeared the pesto on the top, placed the lambsquarter and chickweed on top of that, layered on the roasted onion, tomato, and pepper, sprinkled some chopped chives, sliced some cheese, grated some parmesan, and cooked at 300 for a few more minutes until the Stony Man cheese was pleasantly less solid. I had specifically asked whether it was a good melting cheese, and it seems as if it should have been as was promised, but my impatience showed through--it was almost midnight by the time the pizza was finally in the oven, and I was hungry and wanted to go to bed! But, I garnished with the parsley ('cause I forgot to use it) and took pretty pictures before I devoured my slice.

It was hard not to eat the second, third, and fourth slice after eating this first one (by the way, the pizza kept well in tupperware--the dough wasn't soggy in the morning!). The small amount of agave nectar and sugar in the pizza dough was a wonderful addition and helped offset the purported bitterness of the dandelion greens. I almost always make whole wheat crusts with a little sweetener in them when I make pizza, and this one was much better than any of those--more depth, a little nutty. I didn't taste the dandelion greens as I would have on their own (I tried a few before cooking them, and yeah, a bit bitter; after, they were a bit worse, actually, but that might have been the age of the leaves I chose or they could have been from different plants), but I could taste the effect they had on the dough. The parmesan, of course, made a wonderful double appearance in the pesto and grated as an accent cheese on top of the pizza.

The pesto, weeds, and roasted veggies... That is a combination of utter delight. As a child, the cheese was what I loved most about pizza--that was not remotely the point in the dish I created here! The cheese was a nice side note, but the mellow crust, the sweet veggies, and the powerful pesto were what worked wonders all over my mouth.

But, my mouth had been prepped by this little BONUS RECIPE!

This is what I did with the dandelion root. I washed it thoroughly and chopped it up into 1/2- to 1-inch sections. Then I washed the chunks again.

I sliced 'n' diced it in the food processor, and then I roasted it at 250 Fahrenheit until the bits got dry and crispy.

I probably could have roasted them a little longer; some bits had started blackening, and I didn't want them to burn (or catch on fire, as my oven is wont to do).

Then, I steeped the roasted root bits in hot water for about 10 minutes. Roasted dandelion root (and catsear root, too [see above]) is used as a coffee substitute. So are roasted kidney beans.

I should have used one of those tea ball things, but I didn't have one and I was too desperate to try this drink to wrap up the roots in a paper towel or something similar. So, while drinking, I had a bit of a problem getting the root floaties in my mouth, but... Well, watch.

He likes it!


Seed GROW Project #3

Pride season has started here in DC, which means I'm in the final planning stages for Pride Green committee stuff. That's my way of saying "whoa, busy."

So, although I have seen how wonderfully the "Spitfire" nasturtium from Renee's Garden are doing in the window planter at Mr. Yogato, I don't have a picture more recent than 14 May, shortly after the seeds germinated (left). There are about a dozen little plants next to corn and hollyhocks that are growing alright, but not amazingly. I think the nasturtium will do better, because the window planter doesn't get much water when it rains--I have to water it manually, and let me tell you, that doesn't happen as often as it needs to!

Well, at least, not at Mr. Yogato and my community garden. It happens at just about the right frequency at work, and way too much in my living room. The fungus gnats are ridicucrazy, but then, so are the spider mites. But, the "Spitfire" in my window (although the old leaves yellow and fall off with alarming speed) hasn't had spider mites yet. That's what got my nasturtium last year, so I consider this to be a success, so far. The leaf size is much smaller than that of the nasturtium at Mr. Yogato--in my window, they're about an inch across. At Mr. Yogato, they're about an inch and a half, two inches across. They get a lot more late-afternoon sun at Mr. Yogato, whereas my apartment gets morning and early-afternoon sun.

Neither has flowered, but there's time, yet!

I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds.


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