Like most everyone I’ve bitten my tongue. I also scalded it with hot food and beverages. It healed, at least I think it has. As I prepare food from our kitchen garden, some days I don’t notice the taste, partly due to damaged taste buds.
The first cherry tomatoes are such a burst of flavor one must notice. Some days I swoon with how good a dish prepared in our kitchen tastes, even one I make often. Days when taste is dormant are sad ones–distracted with life, eating becomes a simple necessity, a chore.
“Today, food has taken on value, which goes beyond the simple act of eating,” Massimo Bottura, who operates a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy said on a BBC program called The Future of Food. “I was born with the will to be contemporary. When you are truly contemporary, your mind is constantly projected toward the future. There is always more future in my future.”
What does that mean in an Iowa kitchen garden?
I mastered enough techniques to convert raw food into meals. Few ingredients have me consulting with cook books about how to prepare or serve them. For example, a few days ago I harvested a dozen bell peppers and knew to parboil them to make stuffed peppers. I knew how to prepare the dish with rice, onion, celery, tomato, garlic and other ingredients on hand. Hard to say where I learned the technique yet it is part of culinary me. There are many techniques resting behind the door of consciousness. It gives me confidence in the kitchen, enough confidence to put meals on the table each day without consulting recipes. Does it go beyond a single meal into the future? That is more tricky.
I make soup often and attribute it to my Polish heritage. I can consistently produce a certain flavor profile. In the past I made big batches of soup and water-bath canned the extra. No more. I focus on flavor in smaller amounts done over and over through the gardening season. My typical soup starts with mirepoix: celery, onion and carrot. From there, I add what is available, including pearled barley, lentils, turnips and potatoes if I have them. Yesterday I added radicchio leaves, cabbage, kale, grated zucchini, and part of a jar of canned whole tomatoes. Salt and bay leaves seasoned the soup. Because the crop is coming in, I added diced broccoli stems. It simmered all day and by supper time was a meal. While this is not specifically a Polish soup, my heritage influenced the preparation. It suited my palate.
It is a struggle to get beyond the meal currently being prepared. After a trip to the garden, and a tour of the refrigerator and pantry, I get ideas about what to prepare each day. As the gardening season proceeds there are more choices. I’ve found the more our cuisine is driven by ingredient availability and freshness, the better the meal. That’s not surprising, although not particularly noteworthy. I enjoy cooking, and eating home-prepared meals more than restaurant fare. I’m nowhere near the level of Bottura. We get by in our kitchen.
I don’t know if my palate is truly damaged, and live with what I have. When a dish comes out really well I enjoy eating it. Much of the time I’m distracted from living and eating by outside concerns. My best plan for the future of food is to grow great ingredients and pay attention to the preparation. With practice I’ll get better and occasionally I will touch the sublime. That’s what a home cook can hope.
I searched this website for arugula and found I’ve written about farfalle with arugula several times. It is my go-to spring dish, and now that one of us is vegan, I moved it to the breakfast rotation instead of supper. Properly made it is a taste sensation.
I haven’t written about the dish the same way over the years. That is, the “recipe” keeps changing. This iteration was pretty good, so at the risk of being repetitive, here goes:
Put water on the stove to boil. Measure one and a half cups dried farfalle and put it in the water once it is at a rolling boil. Set the timer for 12 minutes.
On the cutting board, tear up a good handful of arugula and remove the thick stems. De-vein 10-12 sugar snap peas and cut them in half across the length. Measure half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese.
Put a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl. Add a teaspoon of ground, black pepper and a couple of grinds of sea salt.
When the timer goes off, add the sugar snap peas to the boiling pasta and let it go for another 60 seconds or so. Collect a quarter cup of pasta water and drain the pasta and peas.
Pour the pasta and peas into the mixing bowl and begin gently mixing. Add the pasta water and continue to mix. Finally, add the arugula and mix until incorporated. While I used the word “mix” a couple of times in a row, don’t mix it to death. You want the arugula leaves to look like what they are.
Serve immediately. If a person is going to garden, they have to have recipes to use up the produce. This is one of my ever-changing favorites and a Spring classic.
We use a lot of vegetable broth in our household. Making and canning it ourselves is inexpensive and we control what goes into it.
It began years ago, when I planted a big patch of turnips. There were literal bushels of turnip greens too good to compost. I made a simple broth which proved to be tasty. Making and canning vegetable broth has become a spring tradition. We used everything I made last season, so I’m at it again.
Simple is better when making broth for the pantry. A mirepoix, bay leaves, and water form the base of it. I use frozen celery and onions when I have them.
Next I search for leafy green vegetables, usually in the ice box. Today’s batch has turnip greens picked while weeding, collards from trimming seedlings in the greenhouse, Swiss chard that was getting old, and a bag of greens from last week’s share from the farm (Koji and bok choy). I washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped them and soon there were enough to fill the Dutch oven.
That’s it. Put everything in the pot, fill with water, bring to a boil, and then turn it down to simmer all day. After a few hours it will be broth.
I don’t add salt. Broth can be used as an ingredient in many dishes and I do not want an established salinity. It creates flexibility and works out well.
After straining the broth, I fill quart Mason jars in the ice box to be used, or to wait until I have seven jars for water bath canning.
When there is leftover rice I seek a quick meal to use it up. Add some canned red beans and a sofrito and off we go: Quick red beans and rice.
The sofrito begins with the trinity: sautee bell pepper, onion and celery in extra virgin olive oil. Salt to taste and put a pinch of red pepper flakes in the mix. Purists say sautee the red pepper flakes in the oil before adding vegetables to bring out the flavor.
Next add diced spring garlic and the diced stems of whatever leafy green vegetable you have from the garden. Add a medium-sized tomato (canned or fresh) and a cup of frozen okra. If there’s not enough liquid, add a tablespoon or two of water.
Once the vegetables are soft, slice and add the leafy greens from which you took the stems. Mix and sautee until everything is cooked.
Add a can of drained and washed red beans and a cup of leftover rice. Stir constantly until everything is thoroughly heated. Garnish with coarsely chopped cilantro, sliced spring onions, and a dash of Louisiana-style hot sauce.
Makes two servings for diners that enjoy spicy food. If the other diner doesn’t, save the second portion for yourself to reheat later.
Canned beans are a time-saver in the kitchen, especially for weekday meals. I made this recipe from both dried and canned black beans. Flavor-wise, the canned bean preparation was better. There are three parts to the recipe: beans, sofrito and rice.
Drain and wash two 15-ounce cans of organic, prepared black beans and put them into a cooking pan. Add a half cup diced bell pepper, half cup diced onions, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a bay leaf. Cover the beans with broth, tomato juice or water and bring to a simmer.
In a frying pan sautee one large, diced onion, one bell pepper, and three or four cloves of minced garlic. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and dried spices: cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Also add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sautee until the onions are translucent, stirring constantly.
In a blender, puree half of the sofrito and one cup of the beans. Use enough bean liquid to cover the beans and sofrito in the blender. At this point if there is more than enough liquid to barely cover the beans remaining in the pan, spoon it off.
Pour the puree back into the bean pot along with the remaining sofrito. Add two tablespoons brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to taste (about two tablespoons). Stir constantly on medium heat for about ten minutes.
Evening meals are our main ones, especially during the pandemic. I wrote a list of simple meals to get us through this time of contagion. Last night I spent a couple of hours preparing enchiladas for the first time.
Based on the amount of prep work, enchiladas are less than simple. Tortillas need cooking, a sauce must accommodate differing tastes, and issues of fillings and side dishes remain to be resolved. Enchiladas are a from the pantry meal this time of year.
I buy uncooked flour tortillas at the wholesale club. Cook them first and store on the counter in a tortilla warmer.
Next, I opened a 15-ounce can of prepared organic tomato sauce. Emptying the can into a sauce pan, I mixed a couple tablespoons of water with a tablespoon of arrowroot in the can. Once thoroughly mixed, I added it to the tomato sauce and incorporated. Seasoning: chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and dried cilantro leaves. I brought the mixture to just boiling and turned it down to a slow simmer. There are two glass bread pans in the cupboard to separate plain from spicy. This base sauce will make both.
A filling is easy. We buy prepared vegetarian refried beans in 16-ounce cans at the grocery store. They come with onion powder, chili pepper and garlic powder already mixed in. They can be used as is, or with added seasoning. I added salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried cilantro leaves. Once seasoned, mix thoroughly.
Prepare the baking dishes with a light coating of cooking spray or lecithin. I prepared the less spicy batch first. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Roll the bean mixture in tortillas and place them in the sauce, seam side down. Our dishes hold three. Cover with additional tomato sauce, then wrap the pan with aluminum foil to retain moisture while cooking.
For my batch, I added prepared hot sauce to the remaining tomato sauce and lined the bottom of the baking dish with it. I used the bean mixture as a base filling and added prepared peppers from the ice box and a Mexican-style cheese. Once three enchiladas were lined up, I covered them with the remaining sauce, sprinkled some cheese on top and wrapped with foil. Both dishes went on a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. At that point, remove the aluminum foil and cook another ten minutes. If you want the cheese to brown, put that one under the broiler.
It is important to pay attention to how much tomato sauce is used. This recipe makes enough for two bread-pan sized baking dishes and no more. Don’t run out!
I made a batch of Spanish rice to go along with the enchiladas. Enchiladas will be a nice addition to our pandemic rotation of evening meals.
Saturday was a punk day because of Friday’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. I felt tired most of the day, took a long nap, and curtailed outdoor activities even though skies were clear and temperatures moderate. I took this photograph of the garden as the sun set. It’s a starting point for the gardening season.
Garlic is poking through the straw and everything else needs clearing. The forecast today is a high of 65 degrees, so if I feel better, I’ll be out in the garden. I need to be out in the garden.
We have three head of fresh garlic left from last year. After using it, there is a pint of pickled garlic, and a jar of commercial chopped garlic to use. If we can’t make it to scapes, I’ll buy some elsewhere to see us through.
The pandemic had us cooking more at home, resulting in flats of empty Mason jars stacking up. Maybe ten dozen have been emptied since harvest. We are almost out of prepared vegetable broth, so I plan to make seven quarts from the freezer to tide us over until turnip greens are ready.
It’s not just me. A lot of us want the coronavirus pandemic to be over. There are some positive signs. At the Friday vaccination clinic one of the people administering shots said there were less than half a dozen coronavirus hospitalizations at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. No one there was on a ventilator. Outbreaks have been reduced to close to zero at Iowa nursing homes. The media narrative changed rapidly when supplies of vaccine boosted by the Biden administration’s efforts began to arrive. The pandemic is not over, yet as we see the number of cases and deaths decline, there is hope.
Gardening continued during the pandemic. It has been a source of normalcy. As the new season begins, I’m ready to see what adventures arrive in our patch of Big Grove Township. It’s been a long, isolated winter that on this first day of Spring appears over.
As part of a new Saturday tradition, I made a pot of vegetable soup.
Mine is a variation of Krupnik, which is a thick Polish soup made from vegetable broth, containing potatoes and barley (kasza jęczmienna, archaically called krupy — hence the name). I modified the traditional recipe, eliminating meat, mushrooms and dairy, and adding dried lentils for protein. I also used up items in the freezer — shredded zucchini, leeks and green beans. It’s a thick, hearty soup that goes well with a slice of bread. It makes an easy dinner that can simmer on the stove all day, with leftovers. While Mother and Grandmother didn’t make the soup, they would likely recognize mine if they were still living.
On Friday we have an appointment to get the second of two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a necessary step along the way toward returning to a semblance of normal. It will take 10-14 days after the second shot for our bodies to build immunity. After that, we’ll follow CDC guidelines to begin to engage in society again. It’s been a long road.
There is not much unique about this information. It reflects a shared experience not only in the small community where we live, but by fall, for most Americans. President Biden indicated last week vaccines will be available for all who want it. We’re hoping enough people get vaccinated to abate the pandemic this summer.
With our only child living many miles away, our Sundays are usually just the two of us. There are phone calls and occasional video conferences, yet the isolation is palpable. I’m not sure that will change once the coronavirus pandemic is over. We developed new habits and a new way of living that folds into the isolation. It is good preparation for aging.
I’m glad to be finished with dangerous work. My days of working in steel mills, packing houses, and manufacturing plants are behind me. I didn’t realize the risk of infections that came with retail work until retiring. I haven’t been sick since leaving the home, farm and auto supply store. Likewise I haven’t flown on an aircraft in a long while. Last week, I bought gasoline for one of the automobiles for the first time since December. The reduction in work and travel-related risk is positive. Yet I yearn to be with people.
When the coronavirus recedes I plan to seek some form of work. Because of our pensions and relative good health we are okay without it. I want to interact with people, in person. For now I’ll tend my garden and conserve resources… and make Polish soup on Saturdays.
It is a four day process to season the new carbon steel cookware.
Heating the pans in the oven for an hour, then letting them cool completely down before applying another coating is what takes time. I’m doing three seasoning applications in four batches during the initial go-around.
We bought a new set to replace our current non-stick-coating pans. If we take care of them, the new ones should serve for a long time.
Yesterday I discovered Radio Garden. It is software that projects a globe with green dots on our screens. Each dot is an internet radio station. There are thousands of them.
By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.
Radio Garden is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Our dedicated team is hard at work tending to the garden on a daily basis. Planting seeds for the future and keeping the weeds at bay.
Radio Garden started out in 2016 as an exhibition project commissioned by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in the context of the research project Transnational Radio Encounters. It was created, designed and developed by Studio Puckey & Moniker.
I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to radio stations. Current favorites are Radio AkuAku in Hanga Roa on Easter Island and Radio FJV FM in Gdansk, Poland. A main interest is using the Android application to convert my mobile device into a music source I can carry around with me when working in the kitchen garden. There is a lot to explore.
Bit by bit, whatever life I had before the pandemic is peeling away. I embrace the future and try to remember some of the past. It’s another day during a pandemic.
Forgetting to turn off the grow light before retiring to bed is a new bad habit. Seedlings need a daily rest from light, at least for 4-5 hours. I end up turning the light off around 3:30 a.m. when I return to my writing space for the day.
Learning to garden is a never ending process if one is any good at it.
This year the garden is in for big changes. The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho blew over the Locust tree and tilted one of the three Bur Oaks enough it should be taken down. I plan to cut two of the Bur Oaks to provide space for the remaining one to grow normally.
The derecho damaged a lot of fencing I use to discourage deer from jumping into the plots. There will be new stakes and new chicken wire fencing. If we had the resources, I’d install an eight-foot fence all around the garden with a locking gate. There are other projects begging for the money, so that plan is deferred.
The garlic patch is in, but the other plots are an open book. I will rotate cruciferous vegetables and beans. I need a whole plot for tomatoes and a small one for leafy greens. I ran out of garden onions this month, so I want to grow more this year and that will require a bigger space. No final decisions to be made until I plant Belgian lettuce on March 2, two weeks from now, if the snow melts.
The goal of having a kitchen garden is to produce food aligned with our culinary habits that helps meet a basic human need. We have to eat, no matter where, no matter how. It may as well be enjoyable. We’ve all eaten our share of food that doesn’t please our palate. A kitchen garden should address that.
There are inputs to address, other than the garden part of a kitchen garden. Perhaps the most significant is intellectual. Most people don’t frame such a construct although they should.
A kitchen garden is a reaction to the culture of consumerism. An important distinction is reaction, not rejection. I will continue to buy black peppercorns, nutmeg, vanilla bean extract, refined sugar, and all-purpose flour milled elsewhere. How else will we get such necessary ingredients?
For the time being, I’m ovo-lacto-vegetarian (most of the time), which means consumption of dairy products and the good and bad that goes with them. I’m not of one mind on this. For example, I’ll buy a gallon of skim milk from the local dairy 6.2 miles from my house, yet I’ll also stock up at the wholesale club for half the price. I take local eggs from the farm when offered, yet I also buy them at the club. Maybe it’s best to become vegan and eschew dairy altogether. I’m not there yet.
While I am a local foods enthusiast, and my diet centers around being that, I am not doctrinaire. Other people have to consume the results of my kitchen work, although during the pandemic that’s only one other person who I’ve known for going on 40 years. Despite several issues with his behavior and written output — including bigotry, racism and patriarchy — I like the Joel Salatin idea of a food shed. That is, secure everything one can that is produced within a four hour drive of home. I am also not doctrinaire about “food miles.” I’ve written often on the topic and if we work at it, we can secure most of our food produced within less than an hour drive from home.
During the pandemic we haven’t eaten restaurant food even once. If we get out of this thing alive, I see a return to restaurants as a social endeavor. I like our cooking better than any restaurant fare I’ve had the past many years. I expect the habit of cooking and eating at home will persist. How would restaurant dining fit into a kitchen garden? It would be an infrequent adventure in expanding our menu and spending time with good friends.
Another part of a kitchen garden is providing proper nutrition. That means research to understand nutrition enough to combat common diseases — diabetes and cardiovascular disease particularly. Portion control is also part of nutrition, related to maintaining a healthy weight. My research into nutrition was mostly a reaction to medical clinic visits. I sought to change the results of my blood tests regarding cholesterol and glucose through dietary adjustment. The approach has been to discover techniques and processes, then adopt them by habit to weekly meal preparation. Every so often I will consider nutrition in my diet. Mostly, once a new pattern is set, I follow it.
The influence of television and so-called celebrity chefs is part of the intellectual development I bring to the kitchen garden. Before I left my home town for university I spent almost no time in the kitchen learning how to cook. The first meals I prepared for guests were tuna and noodle casseroles made with condensed cream of mushroom soup from a can, once for Mother before leaving for military service, and once for friends at my apartment in Mainz, Germany. My early cooking years — in the 1970s — were trial and error and a lot of marginal, home-prepared meals. I recall at least one loaf of “bread” I used as a doorstop. It was baked while I was an undergraduate, interested in macrobiotic cooking, and didn’t understand how yeast worked.
I learned cooking mostly from television. In 2014 I wrote this about my experience on a work assignment in Georgia during the 1990s:
TV Food Network, as it was known, occupied my non-working time, and I developed an insatiable curiosity about food and its preparation. Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Julia Child and others prepared food on screen, and I was captivated, watching episode after episode on Georgia weekends. Food is a common denominator for humanity, and I couldn’t get enough. My involvement in the local food movement today has its origins in the contrast between that uninviting place in South Georgia and my food escape.
There is a broader point to be made than one person’s transient addiction to a television network while away from home. It is that American food pursuits, and the economy around them, continue to be based partly upon curiosity.
Curiosity About Food, Blog Post, April 17, 2014.
Over time, Food Network became more formulaic and less interesting. It also moved to a form of cookery competition that diverged from recipe preparation. I don’t tune in today. It opened my mind to the possibilities of food preparation and for that I am grateful.
The last part of intellectual development affecting the kitchen garden has to do with studying recipes. In my ongoing document mining I expect to purge my collection of hundreds of cookbooks. Partly because there are too many for reasonable use, and partly because I have learned the lessons from many of them. Which cookbooks have mattered most?
Like it is for many people, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker is a go-to book when I’m learning to cook a specific dish or vegetable. I continue to use it a lot. I frequently use Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. I keep copies of other reference books, but those are my main two.
For variety, I have cookbooks by Mario Batali, Giada De Lautentiis, Rick Bayless, Jeff Smith, and Anthony Bourdain, all of whom appeared on television during the period I watched cooking shows. These recipes produce food we like. I also use a few baking cook books, Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, and The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. I’m currently working my way through some cook books used by local chef, the late Kurt Michael Friese.
I studied church and organizational cook books extensively. I adopted very few recipes from them so most are going to go. I’ll keep those that have some sentimental value, ones in which recipes by friends appear, and a set of a dozen or so from my old neighborhood in Northwest Davenport. The purpose of acquiring these cookbooks has been to understand the development of kitchen cookery beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. People used a lot of gelatin and lard back in the day, that’s for sure.
Whatever I learned from studying cookery reduces itself into repeatable main dishes made using understandable preparation techniques. A family only needs so many recipes. As I progress, the kitchen garden becomes more related to cuisine, one recognizable and uniquely our own. It is a cuisine tied to soil I made, the flavors that emerge from it, and the methods used to make it into dishes. The garden has already changed to better match what is going on in the nearby kitchen. That relationship will continue to evolve.
The journey home begins with an understanding of where we’ve been and ends, if we are lucky, with a pleasant reunion with family and friends. A kitchen garden works toward that end.