Fleur-de-CarePkg

Last year this time, after dehydrating 30 bulbs of garlic (roughly 200 cloves) and processing the batch into a quart of garlic powder, I questioned whether I would do it again.

  1. I didn’t know if I would use that much garlic powder.
  2. Although I love the fragrance of the stinking rose, the dehydrating process overwhelmed the air quality of the house for a long weekend.

Well, this is August 2016. I did it again, and then some.

  1. Richard arrived in February to an almost-full quart of garlic powder. By the time he left in early July, there was only dust on the bottom of the jar. He used the garlic powder in omelets, sprinkled it on meat and stir-fry, and scooped it into soups and sauces.
  2. I got a call from one of the fellows who suggested making garlic powder in the first place. He had a garlic question, and, as garlic growers often find, one question led to a long, garlicky conversation.   When we touched on the dehydration process, I mentioned that it stank up the house. “Oh, my wife would never let me do it in the house. I just set up my work station in the garage.”

Thank goodness for wives with limits.

For this year’s garlic powder process, I started with 60 bulbs (342 cloves). The grueling part of the job is peeling the papery skins off each of those 342 cloves. But after that was done, the drying and processing seemed to take less time than last year. What a difference it made moving the dehydrator into the garage. The aroma of drying garlic took the edge off the stale gasoline-motor oil odor, and there is nothing like an open garage door for ventilation. Nineteen hours later I was sifting garlic powder into jars.

Some moms send care packages of chocolate chip cookies. Some send brownies. I’ll be mailing my kids containers of homemade garlic powder. Laurie Lynch

Ahoy Skype: Daughter Marina and I have this uncanny tendency to cook or crave certain foods simultaneously even though we live on different continents. Part of it is seasonal, such as baking pumpkin pies when pumpkins ripen in the garden or making pesto pasta when the first basil plants billow with fragrant green leaves. But other times, it might be as simple as, “I made the best Caesar salad last night,” with the other replying, “So did I!”

On Sunday, we were Skyping when Marina held up a large yellow zucchini, “Dinner.”

“Oh, you can make zucchini boats! I just made them for the first time this week. They are so easy and fun. I don’t know why I never made them when you kids were growing up. I guess I was so busy selling the small ones that I never let them get big.”

So, we chatted as Marina prepared her yellow boats. First, I explained, slice the large zucchini in half, lengthwise. Then, scoop out the flesh, leaving about a half inch of flesh as the shell. Cut up the flesh, and add chopped onions or garlic, fresh or canned beans, diced peppers, corn from the cob, cherry tomatoes, whatever you have.   Saute with ground turkey, beef, or sausage, or go meat-less. Stir in grated cheese. Fill each boat with the mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. We said our good-byes between the chopping and sautéing, but I’m sure dinner was delicious.

Written in Cross-Stitch: “Gardeners get to stay in their beds all day.” (A gift from a BFF.)

Fleur-de-Kalettes

Every growing season I like to try something new.

This year, I didn’t even have to think about it. My friend Chris handed me three “Kalettes” plants and I immediately gave them a prime spot in my garden.

They grew to be statuesque, waist-high, dusky green plants with purple stems. Real beauties.

This new vegetable was developed through hybridization (not genetic modification) over 15 years at the British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds. The developers crossed kale and Brussels sprouts, both members of the Brassica oleracea family, to come up with what they call “Flower Sprouts” in the United Kingdom. Little leafy heads grow on a thick stem like Brussels sprouts but the heads are loose with frilly green and purple leaves. The result, I’ve read, is a vegetable with a taste milder than kale and easier prep than Brussels sprouts—no need to blanch or halve the heads, just simply roast, saute or even eat raw.

Kale-Sprouts

Remains of Kalettes

The only thing the breeders did not take into consideration when creating their delicious and nutritious Flower Sprouts/Kalettes was making them deer-proof.

That failure aside, it was a great year for garlic. My only problem was a barn full of gorgeous garlic and the thought of it going to waste. My schedule was such that I couldn’t attend the Lemont Farmers Market this month where I usually sell pounds of my hard-neck garlic. What to do?

I heard the state Master Gardener coordinator developed an attractive garlic photo board for Ag Progress Days in mid-August. I figured donating my harvest to our Master Gardener program, bagged and labeled, would be a win-win situation. It was. We sold out by the second day.

August is definitely Master Gardener month in Centre County. This past weekend we had a double-header.

At Tait Farm’s Tomato Festival, Master Gardeners sliced and sorted 60 varieties of tomatoes for the annual Tomato Taste Off. This year’s winner was White Currant, a cream-colored gem about half the size of a cherry tomato with a burst of flavor.

The festival also featured an Iron Chef Competition, with two amateur and three professional chefs who prepared tomato dishes. My favorite entry was created by amateur chef Kelly Renfrew and was awarded “Best Flavor and Texture”.

Tomato Avocado Salsa

4 plum tomatoes

2 T finely chopped onion

4 oz. crumbled feta

1 T chopped fresh parsley

3 T red wine vinegar

2 T olive oil

1/2 t oregano

1/2 t salt

2 avocados, chopped

Mix together and serve with tortilla chips

Master Gardeners also had a table at the 142nd Annual Centre County Grange Fair.  Although I hadn’t been there in 50 years, a walk through the livestock barns brought back memories of showing my pony in the 4-H Roundup…especially when a black toy spider dropped in front of my eyes.

About 15 feet away, a boy, 10 or 11, was sitting on a bale of hay holding a fishing line that was looped over the rafters.  As unsuspecting fairgoers approached, the boy released the line, letting the spooky spider scare his prey.  I think his father or grandfather was playing that trick when I was there last. Luckily, some things don’t change. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Fleur-de-Retell

cropped PPMarina was on a mission. It was Sunday morning and she was scouring the tables at a flea market in Gent’s medieval neighborhood of Patershol.

She and Koen take their vegetable scraps to the community garden compost bin regularly but fruit flies hovering over the bucket on their apartment balcony were annoying. They needed a compost bucket with a lid.

She could have looked online. Garden Supply Company advertises leak-proof and odor-free compost pails that “match your décor.” Their top seller is a mere $39.95 plus shipping, but it’s doubtful they ship to Belgium. Besides, flea markets are so much more fun.

Marina spotted a white enamel bucket with a handle and a lid—exactly what she wanted.

“Young people are buying these again. I just sold one to another young person,” said the woman selling an assortment of goods.

Marina asked her what it was.

“A piss pot. 15 euro.”

“It will be a perfect compost bucket,” Marina said, handing her the money.

As she walked through the cobblestone streets with her prize, people kept saying, “Look, it’s a piss pot” or “She’s got a piss pot” and laughing. One elderly woman asked if piss pots were coming back in fashion. A gentleman asked how much she paid.

The proper Brits across the North Sea would refer to Marina’s find as a “chamber pot” but they are not so genteel in Belgium. Back in the days before indoor plumbing, you’d save yourself a trip to the privy in the middle of the night by relieving yourself in a portable piss pot. Marina got a real-life history lesson at the flea market, and shared her sustainability creed with the older generation: reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose. As an added bonus, there is not a fruit fly to be seen in her new compost bucket. Laurie Lynch

Beach visitWritten on Slate: We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got.” Andre Dubus

Granddaughter Photo Update: Papa Richard and Tantine Marina took Lais to the beach at Oostende. With her lovey Doudou in hand, Lais ventured into the waters of the North Sea and tasted the salt spray.

 

 

Fleur-de-Simple

Smoke TreeWhen Richard was visiting, his cousin Nick often showed up around dinnertime.

One night, we were planning a simple summer meal—BLTs: bacon, garden lettuce and heirloom tomatoes with Belgian mayonnaise on toast. When Richard said, “Can Nick come for dinner?” I automatically said, “Sure,” but then wondered how I was going to make the menu stretch to fill not one but two young men—without a trip to the grocery store.

The refrigerator was looking pretty sparse, but there was an eggplant. The wheels started turning. I sliced the eggplant lengthwise, interspersed the slices with the bacon strips, put the trays into the oven, and baked them at 400 degrees. The bacon fat started melting, sizzling into the eggplant. When it was time to flip the bacon, I flipped the eggplant too.

It was a perfect marriage: Crisp bacon, melt-in-your-mouth eggplant, tender lettuce, and juicy tomatoes. Nick even came up with a catchy name…a “Belt Sandwich.” At first, I didn’t get it. Then he said, “Bacon Eggplant Lettuce and Tomato, B-E-L-T.”

When I was a child, the one vegetable I wouldn’t eat was beetroot, as in Grammy Wrobleski’s pickled beets. Luckily, I grew out of that aversion.

It all started in the garden, well, actually, the garden seed catalog. The red and white rings of the Chioggia beet looked so beautiful in the catalog that I couldn’t resist. I branched out to Bull’s Blood, then Golden. Along the way, I boiled beets, roasted beets, sliced and chopped cooked and chilled beets, pickled raw beets and other vegetables, and tossed beet greens into salads. My daughter Marina even made a chocolate mint beet mousse pie. I’m one of those obnoxious converts—I love beets.

Early this summer, I was chatting with a gardening buddy and the conversation, as it often does, slid from the soil to the kitchen. I was detailing the steps of some beet recipe when Sharon said, “My favorite way to eat beets is to grate them raw into a salad.”

“You just eat them raw? You don’t cook them or anything?”

“Yes, I just grate them. Raw, like a carrot.”

Simple. It was so simple. Why hadn’t I ever thought of it?

Well, this summer I’ve been making up for lost time. I wash the fresh beet. If it has brown, sunburned shoulders I trim that skin off, but other than that, I just slide the beet down the grater until I have a haystack of ruby, peppermint striped, or golden beets. Next, I chop a Poona Kheera cucumber and put a layer on each salad plate. Then, I scoop a generous portion of the grated beets and place it on top of the bed of cucumber. I drizzle with salad dressing or just a splash of vinegar and a crackle of pepper. Simple, elegant, and oh, so healthy.

I made the raw beet-cucumber salad for my sister Lee Ann when she came for a weekend. She liked it so much that she shared her favorite sandwich recipe. The other night I tried it, and I must say it is another simple summer meal that will become a standard.

Bleu Portabella Burgers

Onions or shallots

1 Portabella Mushroom Cap per person

Blue Cheese

Salad Leaf Basil or Lettuce

Toasted Bread or Roll

Caramelize chopped shallots in olive oil. Remove from pan. Add a little more olive oil and place the Portabella mushroom in the pan, smooth side up. Cook for a few minutes; then flip. Place shallots in the “cup” of the mushroom, top with blue cheese, cover, and cook until tender.

Slide mushroom onto a slice of toast, add several Salad Leaf Basil leaves, and top with another slice of toast. Perfect with an ear or two of sweet corn on the cob.

Keep it simple. Laurie Lynch

Written in Slate: Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. –Rumi

Fleur-de-Up: The photo accompanying this blog is of a home I pass while riding through Lemont. The color of the floral panicles on the smoketrees echo the trim of the dormer window. Stunning. Cotinus obovatus is native to the United States and has brilliant fall foliage.

Fleur-de-Down: I bought a watermelon over the weekend at our local Amish farmers market. When I got it home, I saw the tiny sticker that said: Product of the EU. Are you kidding me?

 

 

Fleur-De-Half-Staff

Teasel Morning Light“Nice is nice.” Pronounced “Neese is nice,” it’s been my mantra the last few days. It is a line from Bonjour, Mr. Satie, one of our favorite books when my kids were young. It keeps reverberating in my mind. Nice is nice. Nice is nice. Nice is nice.

In Tomie dePaola’s enchanting book, worldwide traveler Uncle Satie visits his niece and nephew and tells them of a contest in Gertrude Stein’s Parisian salon to determine the better artist: Pablo (Picasso) or Henri (Matisse)?

I’m not exactly sure who says, “Nice is nice,” but I remember sitting on the kids’ beds reciting that line, in a very fake French accent, relishing the beauty and complexity of language. It is a children’s book that is a delight for parents. I can’t give any other details because the family copy is sitting on the bookshelf of a certain 2-year-old’s bedroom in Belgium.Teasel&Mt Nitt

The warm memories of reading Bonjour, Mr. Satie fill my heart, as do the recollections of walking along the palm-tree promenades and wandering through the flower market of Nice, enamored with bouquets of French blue agapanthus. Last week’s headlines, compounded by too many other devastating events, threaten my lighthearted thoughts.

How do we deal with the randomness of tragedy, the sickness of hatred, whether behind an assault weapon or a steering wheel? I can’t begin to comprehend the senseless slaughter, the loss, the utter inhumanity.Chicory&QA Lace

So I pull my bicycle out of the garage and escape. Pedaling clears the boggled brain and the heavy heart. Mother Nature never disappoints.

On my route, I appreciate the beauty of midsummer. A stand of teasel (Dipsacus) with Mount Nittany as a backdrop frames my view. The morning sun glows halos around the teasel combs. Nature’s chance planting of blue cornflowers (Cichorium intybus) and delicate umbels of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) creates a stunning border along Houserville Road.

Trumpets of lilies welcome me to a brief interlude, to rest and ponder over breakfast of homemade elderblossom water and a dripping ripe Pennsylvania peach. Life can be so simple, so delightful. Then, the flag is lowered to half-staff. Laurie LynchSelf Portrait

“Life is a tragedy full of joy.” Bernard Malamud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleur-De-BeyondPesto

Sometimes gardening in a yard—whether it is a city plot or several acres—is overwhelming.

Don’t throw in the trowel just yet. Try a grow box.

Basil Box

Basil Box

Last summer, in the Ag Progress Days high tunnel, Master Gardeners grew gardens in EarthBoxes. Our beverage box garden included lemon verbena, stevia, and chocolate and pineapple mints. Our south-of-the-border box featured chili peppers, basil and cilantro. Our Scarborough Fair box was planted with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Last summer and this, we offered classes on how to build your own self-contained growing system. Last winter, I babysat two of our EarthBoxes and was rewarded with fresh herbs all winter long.

I mentioned to Richard that I was going to be sad to see the Master Gardener EarthBoxes go. Before I knew it, a large package arrived in the driveway and I was the proud new owner of my very own EarthBox™ Gardening System. It comes ready to assemble, with container, potting mix, fertilizer, wheels, watering tube, screen, and instructions. The beauty of the box is that plants are bottom watered, and the water reservoir only needs to be refilled about once a week. Each EarthBox™, by the way, is made in the USA, and the company is headquartered in Lancaster, PA. Check it out at www.earthbox.com

As fate would have it, a mini-tornado blew the plastic off our Master Gardener high tunnel in February, so I am still babysitting the MG herb boxes. That gave me the luxury of making my EarthBoxes Basil Boxes, also known as portable pesto pocket gardens. One has a mix of Genovese and Salad Leaf basils. The other is dedicated to Salad Leaf basil, nothing else. I had the benefit of seeding the boxes long before I could plant outside and giving the basil babies a good start inside. When the weather warmed up, I moved the boxes outside. It wasn’t until yesterday that I set my horizons beyond pesto and realized I had a living, breathing, fragrant, self-contained, appetizer and cocktail oasis. Here’s the story:

We were invited to a party. The host and hostess supplied dinner and drinks. Guests were to bring appetizers or desserts. A lot of gardeners were invited to the party, so I wanted to bring something fresh, and easy. We found just the thing. We bought bamboo picks at Wegmans, as well as a container of mozzarella “pearls”. At Friday’s Farmers Market, we spotted multi-colored cherry tomatoes just harvested from a local a high tunnel. We slid a mozzarella pearl on the mini-skewer, then threaded one end of the Salad Leaf basil leaf, pierced a cherry tomato, wrapped the other end of the basil leaf up and looped it onto the pick, and then added another mozzarella pearl. They are lovely to look at—a simple salad on a stick.

Salad on a Stick

Salad on a Stick

With such easy preparation, we had time for an afternoon jaunt. We went to Tait Farm’s Summer Cocktails sampling with April Myers from Spat’s Café and Speakeasy in State College. I had never imbibed basil—until yesterday. April made MayBerry Cocktails and Sour Cherry Smash, both featuring basil as a muddling ingredient and even, as an infusion into vodka. I’m seeing my old friend basil in a whole new light. One basil box for pesto, the other for cocktails and salad sticks? Laurie Lynch

MayBerry Cocktail

½ oz. Tait Farm Strawberry Shrub

1 ½ oz. Basil-infused Vodka

Strawberries

Basil leaves

Ice

Club Soda

Muddle a strawberry and a basil leaf with the Strawberry Shrub. Add ice, vodka, and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a strawberry and basil leaf.

Poppy

Garden Poppy

For other recipes or to order Tait Farm Shrubs, check out www.taitfarmfoods.com

Garlic Mustard Update: I pulled as much as possible, and keep working at it. Just so you know we have a few pretty things growing, I took photo of a blooming poppy.

The Not-So Secret Garden Update: The firepit continues to be a go-to hotspot for evening conversation and contemplation.

Firepit

Richard’s Firepit

Written on Slate: “I live in the garden. I just sleep in the house.”

 

 

Fleur-de-Chainsaw

What is it about guys and chainsaws?

I can understand resurrecting your grandfather’s secret garden, increasing the size and height of the fire pit, and clearing fallen trees. I appreciate creating focal points with sculptures that Nonno chiseled many, many years ago in an art class. I respect the need for mood lighting, a nook to stack firewood, and a few gnomes.

But what about the garlic mustard?

I swear I patiently explained the need to pull the dastardly weed popping up in every flowerbed that skirts the house and the woods that surround the yard. I actually demonstrated at the pond garden, bagging the pesky plants, suffocating them in black plastic.

First year plants

First-year plants

Alliaria petiolate, aka garlic mustard, is a vigorous biennial. To a garlic lover, there is a certain attraction to garlic mustard. Crush the stems or leaves, and you smell that delicious garlic fragrance. That’s probably why it was brought from Europe to Long Island, NY, shortly after the Civil War. But the plants invaded the northeast and headed west, forming dense colonies, crowding out forest trilliums, trout lilies, wild ginger, native orchids, and even oak seedlings. Garlic mustard also inhibits beneficial soil fungi, damaging the forest ecosystem. The plants survive and thrive in wet or dry soil, shade or sun, and deer don’t like to eat them, so they run rampant.

The first year, garlic mustard looks like an innocent rosette of round-toothed leaves. That is also when it is said to be tastiest. But EARLY in the second year, March and April, it shoots up erect flowering stems with white, four-petal flowers. If garlic mustard is in or beyond the flowering stage when you first notice it, pull it out, root and all, bag, and dispose of it. If left undisturbed, each flower could produce a needle-like capsule filled with hundreds of seeds.

A dangerous tree was leaning precariously into the yard. Out came the chainsaw. So proud of the sacking of a giant locust tree, Richard found the tape measure—100 feet tall—and took a picture to post on Facebook.

So what about the garlic mustard?

He had a job at a local brewery.   He is his Nonna’s almost-constant companion. He prepares lunch and often dinner. He takes his Nonna for nightly cruises down College Avenue and back on Beaver so the 87-year-old social butterfly can “see if there is anything going on.” He goes to the post office and supermarket, making my work day shorter. The chainsaw went into the repair shop. I had hope.

Then we got the darn rain. More rain. And more rain. He had a tonsillectomy. He was out of the labor force for two weeks. The sun came out.

The garlic mustard went to seed.

Needle-Like Seedpods

Needle-like seedpods

If breaking a mirror is seven years of bad luck, garlic mustard going to seed easily matches that. Estimates are that each plant produces up to 8,000 seeds. When they ripen in mid-summer, the pods eject the seeds several feet from the stem. Those seeds can live in the soil for five to seven years.

Garlic mustard is considered an invasive plant from Maine to Washington State. At a nature preserve in Wisconsin, they hold annual Garlic Mustard Pull-A-Thons. Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia has volunteers participate in a Garlic Mustard Challenge—Eat It to Beat It—is the slogan. Their goal for 2016 is disposing of 20,000 pounds of the plants. The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council has a website which offers recipes for Garlic Mustard Ricotta Dip or Stuffed Garlic Mustard Leaves. Why, some entrepreneurs even make an Invasive Weed Pesto out of batches of garlic mustard. If only I could get Richard interested in the culinary aspects of garlic mustard.

On the way to my asparagus patch, there it was: a colony of garlic mustard surrounding a tall spruce where I rest my shiitake logs. I started yanking, piling the fallen soldiers into a bag without remorse, yanking some more. Finally, I could see the trunk of the tree. Where were my shiitake logs?

The Chainsaw-He-Man struck again. My two 4-foot tall shiitake logs were turned into four 2-foot-long campfire logs, with just the buzz of a chainsaw. Please, what about the garlic mustard?  Laurie Lynch

Chainsaw Dude

Chainsaw guy in action

Written on Slate: “The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.” –Tibetan Proverb