Tuesday, July 26, 2011

French Potato Salad With Guest Chef Kate Yoho

We are in the beginning stages of filming a series of Gardening episodes to help educate and inspire folks to grow food and herbs wherever they live. Our goal is to show simple and effective ways to make the most of your space. Everyone can grow something to feed themselves. I live in a suburb of Franklin, TN and I have about two acres. I have a large kitchen garden in the front yard where I grow vegetables, herbs, small fruits and flowers in raised beds.

This past week I invited Kate Yoho, local restaurateur and chef to my kitchen garden. Together Kate and I took inventory of my current produce and herbs, harvested as we went along then went to work in the kitchen to make an easy, healthy and delicious meal.

It didn’t take Kate long to come up with a French Potato Salad that would be a wonderful side dish that could become the main course with just a few additions.
The result was fabulous! Thanks Kate.

Oh yeah, here is the recipe…bon appetite!

French potato salad

1.5 lbs garden potatoes
1 T capers, chopped
1/3 c onions, chopped finely (I.e. Shallot, scallion, Vidalia)
2 T Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 c vinegar such as white wine, red wine, champagne
1 c good tasting olive oil
1 c seasonal herbs (I.e. Parsley, basil, oregano, tarragon, thyme, marjoram,
sage, Rosemary) chopped
2 t kosher salt
1 t fresh black pepper

1. Boil potatoes in liberally salted water, the water should taste like the sea,
for 15 to 20 minutes, until fork tender but not falling apart. If using russet
or baking potatoes, quarter them and leave the skins on. Peel them and chop into 1/2 inch sections after boiling. This keeps the water from penetrating the
potatoes too completely and helps them hold together while boiling. If using
thin-skinned potatoes such as new, red, fingerling, or Yukon gold potatoes do
not peel, simply quarter if larger or chop into 1 1/2 inch cubes and boil to
fork- tender. Drain potatoes and peel if necessary (see above).

2. In a large bowl, whisk together capers, onion, mustard, garlic, lemon juice,
and vinegar. Slowly stream in olive oil whisking constantly until dressing is
emulsified. Stir in herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add warm potatoes to the bowl with dressing and toss to coat all potato
pieces well. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. If the
acid-oil balance is too strong in one direction for your taste, add a touch more
oil or vinegar to suit your taste.

This potato salad is great for picnics and warm weather events, as it contains
no mayonnaise and is wonderful served either warm, cold, or at room temperature.

French Potato Salad is easily turned into a meal salad with the addition of just
a few ingredients.

To morph French Potato Salad into a Nicoise Salad suitable for brunch, lunch, or

Additional ingredients
1/2 lb fresh green beans
2 6 oz cans or 12 ounces fresh seared tuna
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
Fresh tomatoes cut into wedges
12 oz fresh mixed greens
Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Prepare potatoes and dressing as above, but cook 1/2 lb green beans during
the last 4 minutes of cooking the potatoes and drain them all together. Toss all
with half of the dressing made for potato salad.

2. Toss two 6 oz cans of drained solid tuna fish or 12 ounces seared fresh tuna
with half of the remaining dressing (1/4 of the total amount of dressing).

3. Arrange salad greens on serving platter. Top with tuna fish, potatoes and
green beans, and garnish with tomato wedges and egg quarters. Place each on a distinct area of the greens for visual appeal in the presentation. Drizzle
remaining dressing over all and top with fresh cracked pepper if desired.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Breakfast at Emily's .....Daylily Garden

A breakfast in the garden starting at 6:30am, what a wonderful idea I thought to myself when I received the invitation. A perfect time of day for a gardener who is used to getting up early to beat the heat...especially this year in Middle Tennessee where it has been in the mid-90s for the past 19 1/2 days without a drop of rain (but who's counting).

Baked breakfast casseroles, baked garden soil and plants, and half baked gardeners (oh wait, that's just me) all commiserating and admiring the beauty of Emily's garden and appreciating all of her hard work so that friends could come and enjoy.

As I walked through the garden with Emily, she showed me her favorite daylilies and told stories of where they came from, the lilies heritage and the people who hybridized them. Emily's mom handed the love of daylilies down to her and she has poured that into the lives of her girls.

What fond memories children have when they spend time in the garden with parents and grandparents. I raised my children in a garden and now I am spending time with my grandchildren who can't wait to go to CiCi's garden each time they come to visit.

One can learn a lot of an experienced gardener like Emily Robertson, who so graciously shares her garden and her knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. Here are a few pointers about growing daylilies from Emily:

Plant daylilies in full sun for the best flower show.

Buy daylilies with a double fan (the green leaves) unless specified for best success rate. A triple fan is a good idea for Spider varieties.

Dead heading isn’t necessary but helps to keep a pure cultivar as daylilies can cross.

Daylilies bloom for one day only (hence the name day lily)

Daylilies make lovely cut flowers and buds will continue to bloom but will have to be dead-headed in the vase to keep the arrangement looking pretty.

If you are showing daylilies, live head the night before a show by pulling off blooms and leaving the buds which will open in the morning. This will keep old blooms from discoloring or oozing onto new blooms.

Join a daylily society or club to learn more and to trade lilies when they multiply.
Clubs also have sales where you can buy plants at reasonable prices while supporting the association.

Daylily flowers are edible, Emily thinks yellow and pale yellow are the sweetest flavor, stir-fry the buds, use the flowers in salads and on cakes.

Emily uses a time release fertilizer around daylilies in the spring.

When planting new daylily clumps, Emily adds compost or alfalfa pellets to the hole.

Monty’s Joy Juice is a wonderful natural foliar fertilizer and Emily’s favorite.

Ideally, dormant oil sprayed on daylily clumps once a month in January, February and March help to keep bug problems to a minimum.

Divide every five years; be careful not to plant to deep. Soil line should be where green meets roots.

Best time to divide or move daylilies is May thru the end of September. When one procrastinates and suddenly it is November (no one ever does that, right?) No problem, Emily lays a brick on the east and west side of the fan (leaves) to add heat and to keep the roots from heaving out of the ground during the winter. A trick she learned from her mother.

Alfalfa pellets will heat up in the hole during the winter which helps when you divide and plant later then you should.

If you divide or move in the heat of August cut some maple branches and make a tee pee over the plant. The leaves help the plant to transition in the heat and sun as they shrivel and dry up. Another trick Emily learned from her mom.

When temperatures remain above 90 degrees for a spell, daylilies will go dormant and don’t need excessive amounts of water. Water sprinklers can cause heat dormant lilies to rot.

A local Tennessee source for daylilies, Daylily Cove, Franklin, TN – Al Brewer, 615.790.3306

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

'We The Vegetables" A Story by Guest Blogger, Chairmen George Ball of W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

This story begins earlier this year, just as the very first crocuses peeped from the frosted ground. One cold bright morning, George Ball, the Proprietor of W. Atlee Burpee, the gardening company, discovered a curious-looking green envelope in his mailbox. He noticed the pages gave off a distinct bouquet: verdant, earthy and curiously intoxicating. The letter read:

Salutations, Mister Ball,

Over the years you have proved yourself a steadfast friend of the vegetable community. So it is to you we turn to help broadcast our important new declaration to the community of humans.

Recently, we convened a Congress of Vegetables, with each of the four main families—the podded, the fruited, the leafy and the rooted—represented. We invited our powerful tuberous cousins, as well as our rare and exotic relatives, the stalks. As you can imagine, Mister Ball, we are a large and colorful clan, greatly varied in size, shape, flavor and texture.

You might observe, Mister Ball, we have been inspired by the American Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson was, after all, an avid cultivator of vegetables, as were many of his cosigners. They found inspiration in vegetables—and they likewise inspire us.

It is our duty and our privilege to once and for all declare our Bill Of Rights as vegetables. For too long we have maintained a dignified silence in the face of human neglect, abuse and outright insult bordering on the libelous.

For 10,000 years we have nourished ungrateful people with uncountable harvests of delectable, nutritious food. Humankind must now grant vegetables the respect, consideration and care we merit.

For far too long, humans have relegated us to the side dishes of life. In the theatre of cuisine, vegetables serve as supporting players with mere walk-on roles, rather than the culinary stars we surely are.

The Congress of Vegetables hereby claims our God-given rights, and demands that people at last respect us for not only our nutritional value, flavor and texture, but also our distinctive personalities and panoply of colors and shapes.

Our human friends must acknowledge the indispensible role vegetables have played in
their history and survival. Consider this: were it not for annual vegetables, people would not exist. Chew on that!

Humans have an unhappy propensity for viewing vegetables as mere things, commonplace objects on offer in the produce department.

In the pantheon of human culture, we make a poor showing indeed. Where are the monuments, museums, poems, novels, films and symphonies inspired by vegetables?

Your Proust wrote several long, elaborate novels inspired by the bite of a madeleine—a cookie. Imagine how much greater his opus would be if he had dined on an artfully prepared eggplant.

What if, in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the Prince’s soliloquy was addressed to an artichoke? Why not? Is the fear the artichoke would eat up the scenery? Or that Hamlet would eat up the artichoke?

In your entertainments, humans anthropomorphize—imbue with human traits—every kind of thing or creature. In ancient fables and today’s cartoons, humans take on the guise of all manner of creature—woodpeckers, rabbits, rodents, cats, spiders, elephants, dogs, chipmunks and sponges—all, evidently, plausible vehicles for human expression.

The names of your venerated sports teams are inspired by giants, birds, brigands, snakes, metals, jungle creatures, warriors and meat-packers. In vain we look for the California Cauliflowers, Tucson Turnips or New York Yams. Cruelly, inexplicably, you refuse vegetables entrée to the garden of the human imagination.

Your diminution of vegetables diminishes all of us. So build temples to vegetables. Enshrine the role of vegetables in heroic legend. May a conqueror have the dignity to confess, “Were it not for vegetables, defeat would have been inevitable.”

In so-called industrial western societies, vegetables play an ever-smaller role in people’s diet. Adults and children consume a fraction of the vegetables their bodies demand—a development with significant health and economic consequences.

Food manufacturers and restaurant chains apply considerable expense and ingenuity convincing the public to eat un-nutritious fat-laden products unworthy of the designation “food.”

Can it be difficult to convince the public of the appeal of us vegetables—which benefit your waistline, improve your appearance, enhance your well-being and prolong your life?

In the widespread agonizing over America’s obesity crisis, rarely mentioned is the problem’s antidote: Eat More Vegetables.

In the endless bickering over health insurance, did a legislator stand up in Congress to wax eloquent on wax beans and their vegetable cousins? Not that we remember. Looking for highly affordable health insurance? Remember this: “V for Vegetables!”

Helping bring about vegetables’ wretched showing in the human imagination and daily diet is the way we are prepared.

In fact you humans don’t prepare vegetables, so much as abandon us to a merciless pot of boiling water or the brutality of the broiler. Our adieu is swift and unsentimental. Thanks to culinary creative destruction, you sacrifice our luscious color, sensuous texture, voluptuous flavor and spectrum of succulent sensations. Still worse, your children come to regard vegetables as flavorless, lifeless things.

Today, it is true; vegetables enjoy a new vogue in culinary circles. At chic and expensive restaurants, we are transitioning from side dishes to entrées created with nuance and artistry.

Perhaps, for once, vegetables are escaping the stigma of being a duty, the anti-charisma bestowed on all things “good for you.” For once—for once!—we are being regarded as sensual, pleasurable and worthy of temptation. “To the ramparts!”

On this first day of spring, these are the dreams—and the rights—of the undersigned: a vegetable patch in every home, schoolyard and community garden.


Chives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, Scallions, Shallots, Water Chestnuts

Avocados, Chayote, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Melons, Okra, Olives, Peppers, Squash, Tomatoes, Tomatillos

Artichokes, Broccoli, Cauliflower

Arugula, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Chicory, Chinese cabbage, Collards, Cress, Dandelion nettles, Endive, Lamb's lettuce, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Purslane, Radicchio, Savoy, Sea kale, Sorrel, Spinach

Beans, Peas

Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Malanga, Parsnips, Radishes, Rutabaga, Salsify, Turnips

Asparagus, Bamboo, Cardoon, Celery, Chard, Fiddlehead, Fennel, Kohlrabi

Cassava, Crosne, Jerusalem artichoke, Jicama, Potato, Sweet potato, Taro, Yam
Labels: Guest Blogger

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Girls Get a New Coop

Coriander and Cilantro finally got some new digs. My husband and I, well okay, mostly him, built a new chicken coop or hen house. I can say hen because He says I can’t have any more roosters...but before you start feeling sad I will tell you that it is okay.

I love to hear a good rooster crow first thing in the morning and one of the evil twin hens actually crows. No kidding - I have recorded it and have witnesses that can attest to the validity of that statement. It is so cool, who knew? God is So Good!

The chicken coop is special to my husband because it didn’t cost him a dime; only his (and my) time and labor. At first he wanted to build something of an A-Frame style…probably because it is functional and easy. When he presented the idea I guess he figured out right away I wasn’t a fan. I explained that it kind of made sense but that style just didn’t have any ‘cute’ factor. If I have to look at it and visit it a couple of times a day forever (or as long as I have chickens) then I would like a something a little different.

He asked me then what I thought and of course I was prepared. I gave him my laundry list of wants.
1. A hinged window where I could see them and they could watch the world go by from their perch and I could open up for ventilation on hot summer evenings.
2. A hinged screen behind the window to keep the girls safe and could swing in for easy access to the coop for cleaning or whatever.
3. A nest box on the outside of the coop level with the floor (so baby birds couldn’t fall out) with a hinged roof for easy access to gather eggs.
4. Boards spaced about an inch apart for the floor with chicken wire stapled to the underside so predators couldn’t get in.
5. A planter on the front where I could put hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum…I wasn’t asking for a living roof after all.

He simply looked at our pile of recycled and on-hand materials and said we would have to go scouting for more stuff to make it happen. So, we went over to our friend Paul’s house and rummaged through his leftovers from various DIY projects and found all kinds of cool things we could use; tin, a window, rough sawn planks, and a couple of spindles the dog had chewed.

Another friend, Cindy cleaned out her garage and contributed some more wood scraps to our growing pile in the driveway. She also consulted on the mechanical aspects of making a comfortable home for the chicks while making it easier to clean up….like leaving a space between the floorboards so I could just hose out all the chicken by-product down the drain if you will.

Now we were ready to begin. Because I want to have 6 hens we knew it would have to be at least 12 sq feet. But that really didn’t matter because the piece of tin we absconded with was 3’ x 4’ and that was a perfect roof piece – lucky for me and the girls…exactly 12 sq feet. So that piece of tin was the beginning of our zero cost coop journey. My engineer husband sketched out a rough drawing on the back of a used envelope and we were off and running. It was a challenge at times to piece together a coop to my specifications without running out to the hardware store but my hubby made it happen in just a few short days.

The girl's new coop was ready and waiting. We were giddy with excitement partly because we wanted to see their reaction and mostly because they would no longer roost on our bathroom widow sill by the back kitchen door. It seems they took up residence there while I was in Switzerland last month…hmm, who thought that was a good idea? Chicken poop on the porch…Interestingly they chose the bathroom window sill don’t ya think? Chickens have a pea size brain but sometimes I think they must use a tad more than the 8% we do.

With great ceremony I swooped up both chickens and opened the window and pushed back the screen and let them in. Then I had the brainy idea I needed to put one on the perch with a view. As I put Cilantro on the perch, Coriander flew the coop right through my pretty window. No respect. No worries I knew where to find her shortly as it was getting late in the day. You guessed it perching on the window sill. I grabbed her and told her she was going to love her new home. I gently put her in and stood back to watch. Cilantro was singing in the nest box twirling straw, getting everything just right for her egg. Coriander went to pacing and whining; funny how they have such different personalities.

A few days later, our four year old grandson came for a visit. He couldn’t wait to see the evil twins in their new coop and look in the nesting box which was just the right size. He opened the roof and saw three perfect eggs and the look he gave me was priceless! We gathered them up and took them inside where BaBa made an omelet with ham, cheese and lots of veggies from the garden …Yum, yum nothing like fresh eggs first thing in the morning.

The Dirt on Soil

Spring is in the air...and a gardener’s thoughts turn to dirt, well soil actually as my ole college professor would remind us. “Dirt is what you get under your nails, here at UT we study soil”, he would say. We gardeners look for every opportunity to get our hands covered with the stuff. It is therapy for the soul; the aroma of fresh soil released into the air as we dig is exhilarating. It is also exercise, which one realizes later, after digging in the dirt for any length of time. I usually hurt in places I didn’t know I had muscles, but after a few digging sessions this too passes and I get back to the big strong farm girl that my husband married!

Soil talk need not be boring if you remember that it is the foundation to any garden. In fact soil is probably the most important ingredient to a successful, healthy gardening experience. It is worth the extra effort, patience, time and $$ to be sure it is right before planting anything. By starting with the proper soil, many problems like insect damage and plant diseases can be avoided, giving you a beautiful, lush, productive garden.

Composition of soil should be half solid material and half open or pore space with living organisms (that’s right, soil is alive!), decaying matter and minerals thrown in for good measure. Sound complicated? Not at all! Think like a plant, in order to be healthy the roots need to be able to penetrate the soil and go deep enough to find good moisture and take up needed nutrients. DeWayne Perry, UT extension agent/soil specialist of Williamson County tells me that soil is all about physical structure and content.

Now this is the fun part, become a soil sleuth... What is your soil made of? Is it loose, friable and rich in organic material? Does it drain well after a rain or do you notice that your plants wilt soon after a rain and require additional watering? Has your soil been compacted and is hard as a brick? Do you have a new home and realize the top layer of your soil has been removed and no one left a map to tell you where it went? Next, Find out if your soil is fertile and the pH level by taking a soil test. Your local Ag Extension Office can help you with this. It is simple and in a few days you will get a report that tells you the available levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, minerals and pH levels. This report also recommends amendments to add if needed.

Okay, you have analyzed your soil composition and found out you have perfect, wonderful rich, fluffy, drainable soil. No? Not to worry, we can’t always choose the perfect soil situation in which to garden but we can work with it to make it productive by amending. Armed with your type of soil knowledge and soil test you are ready to get to work. If you are reading this and wishing you could have done something before your garden was planted, it’s all right, test your soil and add amendments now. It will just be more time consuming to work around established plants, but they will love you for it.

Organic matter is the number one recommendation to help improve just about any soil condition. Compost would be my all around choice as it alive with microorganisms, provides nutrients (a natural fertilizer), drainage, texture to retain moisture and benefit root growth. Add a one to two inch layer and work in to your current soil. It also is great to use as mulch.

If you have the brick-type, compacted soil you may want to build raised beds and fill with compost or a soil product.

Be creative and be kind to your dirt, it will be the beginning of something great!

Here are two great places to buy compost in the Nashville, TN area:

The Compost Farm of Franklin. They sell compost in bags or bulk and will deliver. http://www.compostfarm.com/

Second Wind Farm Compost, Pick-up at the farm or get it delivered - call Larry Mochera at 615.943.8354 or email him at secondwindfarm@united.net

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Garden To Do List for March

Spring is bursting forth in the Upper South region with daffodil, crocus and hyacinth bulbs blooming. Helebores continue to show out while trees like the Redbud and Star Magnolia along with flowering shrubs help to welcome the re-birth of the garden, a beautiful time to work outside.

In the kitchen garden its time to plant cool season vegetables; sow seeds of beets, carrots, peas, kale, swiss chard, mustard, salad greens, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, parley(soak seeds overnight), dill, cilantro and nasturtium directly into garden. Plant seed potatoes, onion sets, scallions, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

March is a good time to plant asparagus crowns, blueberry, strawberries, grapes and horseradish – all available at your local nurseries and TSC stores.

Start seeds of annual flowers, herbs and warm season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers indoors in a sunny window or in the greenhouse.

Dig and divide perennials and add compost to flower beds and borders.

Boxwoods respond well to pruning in March, be sure to reach in and open up areas for sun and air circulation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Towanda…Fried Green Tomatoes

It’s been a few years since I’ve practiced my skills of frying up green tomatoes but with the bumper crop of green tomatoes this fall I decided it was time. So, I put on my apron, let out a quick warrior cry of “Towanda” and headed to the garden to pick a mess of big green unripe fruit.

Everyone seems to have their own ‘secret’ recipe for fried green tomatoes and I always enjoy hearing the different ways folks prepare and season them. Over the years I have developed a pretty straightforward simple recipe that people seem to like (at least there are never any leftovers).

First, wash and slice tomatoes about ¼” thick. Allow the slices to sit and sweat for a 30 minutes to an hour. Sprinkle them with a seasoned salt, Emeril’s Essence which I make up myself (recipe below) or just sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Coat each side with corn meal and let them sit again for 30 minutes or so. Yeah, I know seems like there is a lot of sitting around.
Heat (med-low temp) enough vegetable oil or coconut oil in a heavy cast iron skillet to cover the bottom to about ¼”. Fry until light to golden brown, then flip each slice over and fry. Add more oil as needed with each batch. Place on paper towels before placing on serving dish. Serve warm (with a pinch of grated parmesean cheese on top). They are actually quite good cold out of the refrigerator too.
• 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
• 2 tablespoons salt
• 2 tablespoons garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon black pepper
• 1 tablespoon onion powder
• 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
• 1 tablespoon dried oregano
• 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in a grinder or shaker jar.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Couple of Sweet Potato Queens

It seems The First Lady and I share some common ground… in the garden. Yes, we can both grow some ginormous sweet potatoes. I think it is safe to say, maybe even politically correct to imply we are a couple of Sweet Potato Queens, both a bit surprised at the size of our taters perhaps but proud none the less of our garden produce.
I planted a 4 x 8’ raised bed with sweet potato starts this year and was pleased at the amount of ‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes that small area produced considering that I planted them in June and pretty much ignored them until September when I started sneaking a few here and there to cook for dinner and finally last week (Oct 25th) dug them all up, left them lay in the garden for a couple of hours then brushed off the extra soil and spread them out on a table in the garage out of direct sun to cure for a couple of weeks.
Sweet potatoes can deal with heat and less rain which was good this year since we had close to record breaking temperatures with near drought conditions mid to late summer.
I should have mounded soil up around the potatoes during the growing season as necessary but didn’t. A few tater tips were sticking up out of the soil and were a bit green. I will cut those ends off and not worry about it.
The vines grew out beyond their borders and I did trim them up a couple of times when they encroached on the strawberries. Geoff with CobraHead Tool Company lives in Austin, TX and told me he eats the sweet potato vines when he trims them. I had never heard of that and am excited to try it next summer. He says to blanch them first then sauté them in a little butter with salt and pepper. The moles did enjoy some of the fruits of MY labor as well, apparent on a few of the taters. Next year I will be more vigilant and proactive by using mole-ridding products - ‘I Must Garden Mole and Vole Repellant’ and ‘Liquid Fence Mole Repellent Worms’. I may also try placing chicken wire at the bottom of the raised bed – after all, it usually takes a village to control these tricky critters.

Sweet Potatoes pack a powerful punch when it comes to health. Dr. Robert Cordell claims that a sweet potato a day keeps the doctor away @ http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/nutrition/27.html He continues…
“The sweet potato ranks extremely high in nutritional value according to the Center of Science in the Public Interest. The Center strongly recommends eating more sweet potatoes since a nutritious diet is one that is high in fiber, provides protein, Vitamins A, C, E, iron and calcium, is rich in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat.

More Fiber
The sweet potato is a good source of dietary fiber, which lowers the risk for constipation, diverticulosis, colon and rectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The fiber in sweet potatoes provides a feeling of fullness and satiety, which helps to control food intake.

More Antioxidants
Antioxidants play a role in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, and sweet potatoes supply plenty of the antioxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene. These substances are effective in neutralizing free radicals, which are responsible for damage to cell walls and cell structures. Vitamin E also protects against heart attack and stroke by reducing the harmful effects of low-density cholesterol and preventing blood clots.

Antioxidants are essential for good brain functioning and in delay in the effects of aging on the brain. A low level of vitamin E has been linked with memory loss. A Columbia University study showed a delay of about seven months in the progression of Alzheimer's disease when subjects consumed high levels of vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin is found mainly in high-fat foods such as oils, nuts, and avocados. Only the sweet potato provides vitamin E without the fat and calories.
Sweet potatoes contain 1,922 mcg - RAE of beta-carotene (vitamin A) in one cup, which is more than the USRDA. You would have to eat 16 cups of broccoli to consume the same amount of beta-carotene. Health professionals believe that carotenoids give protection from the formation of free radicals and are chemoprotective against cancer. “

So go ahead and enjoy sweet potatoes as often as you can. They are easy to prepare by baking, roasting, boiling or get creative and make soup, pies and fries – you are only limited by your imagination.

One of my favorite uses for the orange tuber is in soup - here is a recipe to try...

Cindy Sue’s Sweet Potato Soup

Sauté in heavy steel pan with 1 tablespoon of butter on low heat until tender:

1 large onion, chopped
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tart apple, peeled, seeded and chopped

Melt 2-3 Tablespoons butter in a large heavy stainless steel pot sautae onion, potatoes and apple until tender.

1 can chicken broth (15 oz)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon curry
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ Tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
Simmer on low until all is cooked (mushy)

Add 3 cups cream or milk, use a hand held blender to mix until desired creamy texture is achieved. Some small chunks are okay.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Watermelon Radishes at Kiteley's Farm Market

Kiteley's Farm Market in Charlevoix, MI offers the usual suspects when it comes to produce and sometimes they offer some of the more unusual veggies for the daring or budding gourmet.

"Watermelon" radishes are just one of the discriminating varieties that customers and restaurants alike have enjoyed at the farm this year. “Red Meat” is another name for this radish but I think “Watermelon” does a better job of describing plus you have to admit it just sounds more appetizing and maybe even a bit exotic.
This is the first year they have grown these little rascals and Sue couldn’t wait to show me. I of course an enthusiastic audience; I mean just look at these, what is not exciting about them? Cut them in half and they look just like a tiny watermelon without the seeds of course.

Sue tells me that they are a great keeper after being picked; just cut off the greens which are edible (but only keep for 2-3 days) and toss the topless mini melons in the bottom of the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. They will stay crisp and tasty for a couple of weeks. The flavor is intense and sweet; just what you would expect from a radish parading as a itsy bitsy water melon. Cut them up and serve them with a dip, slice and pile them on a sandwich or shred over a salad for a color burst of flavor and texture. Sauté the greens with a little garlic and as you thin the crop use the young micro greens (with bulbs attached) in salads. This variety of radish is best grown in summer and fall and reaches a mature size of 2-4” in about 50 days. Harvest before the bulbs get old and woody. For a continual harvest, sow seeds every 2-3 weeks. To keep the greens flea beetle free, Sue covers the seed bed with a row cover.

These radishes are not only cute they are good for you too. So what are you waiting for? Order some seeds today from: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-404-specialty.aspx and get sowin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Visit to Grandad's Apple Farm

A recent visit to Grandad’s (no, not my Grandad) Apple Farm in Hendersonville, NC really got me in the mood for fall…even though it was 98 degrees on September 24th! You can’t help but love people who are having fun at what they do. These folks seem to exude bushels of it and the entertainment starts from the minute you pull into their drive.
After all, how many times do you see a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the goat pen eating some poor bloke? The resident lama whose job is to protect the goats from harm didn’t seem to notice the large intruder in his midst. Perhaps his eyes were crossed from all the cabbage he was ingesting.

A Stegosaurus was in the pumpkin patch…how many pumpkins a day does it take to fill him up?

As my friend and tour guide Jennie and I walked into the farm market the smell of fresh baked pumpkin bread and apples wafted through the air. There were large bins of apples and the best part was they were all labeled with large signs. I especially appreciated it because it takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out which variety is which.

A very patient young lady was peeling and slicing samples for all of us customers to sample. Honey crisp was a new one to me that was really sweet. We voted for the lovely green mutsu with its crisp and tart innards (I was thinking how grateful I was to still have mine after passing through Jurassic Park on the way in!) As I wandered around and looked out the back of the building, the cornfield maze and mountains made a scenic background. Workers were bringing in apples and fall vegetables from the back to continually fill up the bins while customers were loading bags of apples, pumpkins, gourds, and veggies into their vehicles in the front.

Jennie bought apple cider and pumpkin bread and it reminded me of the apple orchards in Northern Michigan where apple cider and fresh made hot doughnuts team up to usher in autumn tourists. As we meandered about looking for more oddities I had to wonder who parks their tractor on top of a silo. Maybe they were protecting their John Deere from the dinosaurs? Or was it some mountain gnome’s idea of a practical joke? They’re everywhere you know. It was all quite perplexing to us adults but as I took one last look I felt quite sure that any visiting children would find everything in perfect order.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Guilford County Master Gardeners

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Guildford County Master Gardener 9th annual Gardening Gala and Seminar. 200 garden enthusiasts listened to my presentation of “Kitchen Gardening in the Front Yard”…and what a great audience they we re. Afterwards, I had the chance to talk to many of them as I signed copies of my book, “The Cracked Pot Herb Book” and learned they were from Greensboro and surrounding areas. It is always a pleasure to hang out with a bunch of gardeners at events like these. They all come ready to learn, enjoy great food, win door prizes, buy plants and gardening accessories from the vendors and meet and chat it up with other people who love gardening. The Guildford Master Gardeners have a wonderful demonstration and community garden which I had fun meandering through. I was told they had been working hard in the gardens to get them ready for this annual fall event and it showed…they were beautiful! They had a huge rain barrel from which to water from and I have to admit I did experience a bit of rain barrel envy when I saw it. That barrel must hold a good bit of rain.

I loved their outdoor classroom and vermi-culture area. What a great facility to hold workshops and gardening demos in the garden. The public is welcome and the Master Gardener volunteers answer questions on occasion in the garden.

I am so impressed with the number of community gardens that North Carolina has and after talking to gardeners who volunteer their time to work in them I am inspired to do more with community gardens in my own neck of the woods.

The Guildford Master Gardeners took such great care of me. They booked me a room in the Proximity in Greensboro. This hotel has won many awards for their sustainable gardens and landscape. The food in their bistro was excellent as well. I ate a mushroom and quinoa stuffed pumpkin with a side salad and beet chips. Yum is all I can say about that!

Many thanks to the Guilford Master Gardeners whose volunteers worked hard to produce and staff such a large event and to the people who came to enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can you say Asteraceae?

This was my third of five weekend classes in Mountain City, GE learning about wild plant medicine making. The weather was near perfect, no rain which in a rain forest is unusual. We trekked over trails and at Patricia's whim we would stop, drop and key out plants.
She and Lorna are trying to get it through our heads to think in families when we look at plants. By recognizing plant families we will have a basic familiarity right from the git-go and no matter where in the world we are we will at least know a little something to point us in the right direction.

It's like going to the pool at the YMCA in the summertime and observing the families who come to swim...the kids all have similar characteristic traits special to their family which makes it easy to identify which family they belong to. Does that make sense or is it just me? Many of the plants we keyed out this weekend were in the Aster family....hence Asteraceae, the proper family name. I had no idea how many plants are in this family and how difficult they are to identify down to precise variety.

Difficult or not, persistence, a good magnifier with guidance from our fearless leaders and our trusty 'Newcomb's Wildflower' and 'Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge' books in hand (or backpack or apron) usually resulted in the correct identification of certain Asters, Goldenrods and Boneset varieties which were blooming happily in fields, on the roadsides and along the trails.

It took this long for things (anything) to start clicking in my brain but I'm actually starting to put it all together and think in plant families. Patricia and Lorna will be so proud.

Last class which I didn't make time to post was great fun because we actually experienced harvesting. We dug pleurisy root and cut the soft areal parts of Passion flower, from a field covered in blooms of orange, white and purple. We also gathered Skullcap and horsemint along a trail. All this harvesting was of course done with permission and permits properly obtained. I learned many things but one thing is for sure, a small shovel is a wonderful tool and won't wear a hole in your palm like a trowel will.

Back at Foxfire, we quickly went to work to make medicine from the freshly harvested herbs. We first scrubbed the roots and cut them up in small pieces for a tincture process. We discussed menstruum - the fluid that is poured over the herb parts and the ratios of alcohol and water, how to dilute and how to figure out weight to volume for each plant that we were to tincture.

Once the roots pieces were submerged properly in the correct menstruum I then snipped passion flower and skullcap into separate bowls to be weighed. Once the correct ratio was figured out I put the areal parts into a jar and measured the menstruum and poured it in the jar and put a tight lid on them.

The tincture sits for two weeks (shake daily) before I strain it and put it in it's final resting place (jar), labeled of course. This process was finished at home. It is important to keep good records of all medicine making so I've started a notebook dedicated to just that.