Tag Archives: Spring

Earth Day 2012

Every day is earth day here in the Bounteous household…but for the rest of the world, Sunday is your opportunity to give back to the planet!  Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Beautify your community.  Take a look at your newspaper, or google around for some ideas and inspiration — many organizations will sponsor tree plantings, beach cleanups, and other volunteer opportunities to get your hands dirty, feet wet and the feeling of having contributed to make your world a better place.  Here in the DC area, the Anacostia Watershed Society will be sponsoring cleanups throughout DC, Montgomery and PG counties.  The Casey Trees Foundation sponsors tree plantings all the time throughout the region.

Commit to learning.  Ever wanted to take a workshop on butterfly gardening?  Composting?  Urban chicken raising?  Earth Day is a great day for your environmental resolutions.

New habits.  Continuing along the new Green Resolution theme…choose one thing for the earth you will start to incorporate into your routine.  Maybe you can commit to meatless Mondays, start recycling, bike to work at least once a week, switch your coffee to shade-grown, fair trade…Rome wasn’t built in a day; choose just one habit to begin with and let it slowly build into a more sustainable lifestyle.

I will be joining some friends this weekend at the Baltimore Eco-fest and hope to check out some of their vendors and activities, such as tree plantings, nature walks and workshops!

How will you be celebrating Earth Day 2012?

-R

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Brick spiral garden

In this age of Pinterest there seems to be no end of DIY advice for re-purposing all the old junk you have lying around.  But uh, I don’t know about you, but it’s rare that I actually have all these things — old picture frames, vintage wine crates, pallets, etc, who HAS all that stuff?

But then, on occasion, I come across a project with materials I actually do happen to have.  It is like a lightbulb goes off and I think, HEY, I can MAKE that!!!  And it gets filed away on one of my pinboards, only to be forgotten until I stumble across the object and think, “oh yeah, I should make that project some day…”

Well here is a project that finally came into fruition, thanks to the beautiful spring weather and my eagerness to get into the garden.  I got the idea from this website when I came across it on Pinterest:  tutorial:  spiral herb garden. 

My house came with an enormous stack of ancient bricks in the backyard.  With summer approaching, I’ve been wanting to plant some edibles in my yard, but not until I test the soil and make sure there are no heavy metals lurking underground.  So I had been planning to stick to container gardening for this year, and here was a perfect way to get started.

I chose a sunny spot that was filled with weeds and daylilies like this:

Though the existence of the daylilies seem to indicate full sun, it is hard to tell now before the trees fully leaf out.  So I decided to stick with veggies that (supposedly, I’ve never tried…) can thrive in lower light — swiss chard, arugula, and cilantro.  As the spring and summer progress, I’ll reassess and adapt as necessary.

I cleared and leveled out the ground:

And as the tutorial explained, lay down some cardboard as a foundation and got started laying out my spiral!

It took a couple days to set it all up, with the help of Mr. R.  Finally I filled it with some straw and then a large bag of potting soil.

I started with some seed, but with the extremely hot, dry weather we’ve been having, and considering I am not home 24/7 to keep the soil moist, I didn’t have much luck.  So I picked up some seedlings nearby; hopefully this way I’ll be able to really drench the soil enough to last all day.

 

Gardening is always a little touch and go, especially as strange as the weather has been this spring.  And I’m new to this whole container gardening thing.  So we’ll see how this works out — hopefully I’ll have some fresh greens soon!

The next object I want to re-purpose into a container garden is what I think is an old wash basin, cemented into the ground next to my brick spiral.  I already had Mr. R drill some drainage holes, but, even in this warm weather, I think I’ll wait till beyond the average last frost date in May just to be safe.

-R

Strawberry jam

Just turn a blind eye to the inordinate amount of sugar in this recipe…preserving your strawberries allows you to enjoy their goodness year-round.  Really, this jam tastes like heaven.

I’ve also found that having a stash of fruit preserves in your closet comes in handy when you need a last-minute gift for someone!  Truthfully though, you have to be an awfully special person in my life to receive a jar of my beloved jam, with all the time and energy and love that goes into each batch.

Jam, jelly, preserves…the terms seem to be used interchangeably but they each describe a continuum of “pulpiness” if you will, with jelly being made from pure, strained fruit juice, free of seeds and pulp, preserves being relatively intact fruit, and jam somewhere in between.

It is pretty difficult to screw up strawberry jam, and if you don’t plan to can it I encourage you to break free from the constraints of a recipe and just boil some mashed strawberries, sugar and pectin together in a saucepan to your heart’s content.  You can even experiment with mixing different fruits and seasonings.  It should keep in the fridge for two-ish weeks, and in the freezer for months.

If preserving in a boiling water canner, however, the acidity does matter in keeping bacteria at bay, so it is more important to follow a recipe and keep a specific ratio of ingredients that follows USDA guidelines for safety.

This recipe for basic strawberry jam comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Strawberry Jam
makes approximately eight 8-oz jars

7 cups granulated sugar
5 cups strawberries, hulled, sliced once and crushed with a potato masher or fork (do not strain liquid)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package (1.75 oz) regular pectin

Place clean mason jars on a rack in a boiling-water canner, or a stock pot large enough to submerse jars in water (top of jars should be at least three inches below water).  Bring water to a simmer.

Clean lids and screw bands and bring lids to a gentle simmer in a saucepan to sterilize.

Measure sugar in a bowl and set aside.

Put crushed strawberries/juice into a large pot.   Add lemon juice.  Dissolve pectin into the mixture.  Bring pot to a full rolling boil.

Add the sugar all at once stirring constantly.  Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat and skim off as much foam as possible.  Your first few jars will probably have a bit of foam; that is okay.

Remove a jar from the canner with tongs.  Ladle strawberry jam into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Wipe rim of jar and place lid on top.  Carefully screw on a band until it is tight.  Return jar to canner and repeat with the next jar.

When all jars are filled, lower rack into the canner and make sure there is at least 1 inch of water above all jars.  Bring to a full rolling boil and then process (continue boiling) for ten minutes.  Water must be boiling hard for the entire duration of the 10 minute processing time.

When ten minutes are up, remove from heat and wait at least 5 minutes.  Remove jars from canner and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.  The next day, check for a proper seal — the lids should no longer be “popped.”

These cans will keep for about a year for your strawberry enjoyment 🙂

 

-R

 

STRAWBERRY MANIA!

 

Well the spring has just flown by and I really need to make up for some lost time!  Luckily I have had the opportunity this holiday weekend to indulge in one of my favorite early summer traditions — going totally crazy in the kitchen with STRAWBERRIES!

Is there really anything better in life than enjoying a freshly picked strawberry on that first summery evening?  Strawberry season here in Maryland seems to usher in the summer so perfectly, before the weather gets unbearably hot and the mosquitoes intolerable, and it is something of a tradition of Mr. R and I to head to a local farm and pick an unreasonable amount of them.

Various cultivars of strawberry, which are part of the rose family, are grown worldwide, but the variety you are probably most familiar with is a hybrid of Fragaria virginiana, native to, as the name suggests, North America.

So in celebration of this wonderful fruit, I will now post some of my favorite recipes that we make every year in an effort to use up our obscene number of strawberries.  Enjoy!

 

-R

 

Asparagus ravioli

A classic spring vegetable, asparagus has finally started popping up in my local farmer’s markets.  Native to western Europe, asparagus is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world.  It is a perennial that, if properly cared for, can be productive for over a decade.  I wouldn’t recommend growing asparagus at home, however, unless you really, REALLY love it and want an entire garden full of it (or if you have an enviably large yard).  It is rich in nutrients and I think we’re all familiar with its diuretic properties.

Asparagus has its devoted fans, but it is no doubt an acquired taste, and, I’m not gonna lie, it’s one I’m still working on acquiring myself.  The bitter flavor is just not my favorite.  But as an avowed vegetable lover, it seemed like a sacrilege to dislike it, as one of the first to usher in the growing season.  So like I said.  I’m working on it :).

Luckily, I’ve discovered this recipe below — the flavors of the butter and the cheeses seem to meld perfectly with the asparagus, mellowing its bitterness and bringing out its subtle flavors.  And though the thought of ravioli from scratch sounds daunting, this recipe uses a cheat — wonton wrappers!

So you have no excuse not to give it a try.  I don’t normally post the recipes here that don’t turn out, so I know I say I love everything I write about on this blog — but seriously, this time, I REALLY mean it — this recipe is freaking amazing.

Asparagus ravioli with brown butter sauce
Adapted from the Fine Cooking version

Ingredients
1 lb. asparagus
6 tablespoons mascarpone
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan; more for serving
2-3 garlic cloves (enough for 1/2 t minced)
Pinch cayenne
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 wonton wrappers
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds

Method

Take your pound of asparagus and snap off the woody ends.  Chop off the tips and set aside.  Coarsely chop the stems into approximately 1 inch pieces.

In a pot of boiling, salted water, blanch the asparagus tips until bright green, about 2 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon, drop in a bowl of ice water, and then place on a towel to dry.  Repeat with the chopped stems, keeping them separate from the tips.

In a food processor, mince the garlic and the 1.5 cups of the chopped asparagus stems (you can also do this by hand if you have the patience).  Save any remaining asparagus with the tips set aside earlier for garnish later.

Combine the minced garlic and asparagus with the mascarpone, ricotta, parmesan and cayenne.  Salt to taste, about 1/4 t.

Set out 18 wonton wrappers on your work surface.  Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each wrapper.  Dampen the edges of the wrapper and place another on top, pressing the edges together.  (Note:  this obviously resulted in very, very large raviolis.  You may want to experiment using only one wrapper at a time and folding in half into a triangle to make the ravioli).

To make the sauce, simply heat the butter, coarsely ground black pepper and almonds in a skillet until butter has browned, about 5-6 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and gently drop raviolis into the pot, cooking until they float to the top, about one minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate and drizzle with the butter sauce.  Garnish with additional parmesan and the remaining asparagus tips you had set aside.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

A perfect spring dinner for a perfect spring evening.  Give it a try!

-R

It’s time to start your 2011 vegetable garden

It’s April!  And after a few disappointing weeks of unseasonably cold and rainy (and SNOWY!) weather, things are finally starting to look up.  What better way to greet 70 degree days than with some work in the garden?

A few weeks ago we planted some flats of seedlings and they are starting to really take off.  Next month we’ll put them in the ground, and in the meantime we’re keeping busy with preparing.

We’ve cleared out the remnants of last summer’s harvest and will start constructing some new raised beds. They worked well for us last year, so we want to add two or three more.

In addition, we’ve removed some shrubs and plants from a hillside — one of the last remaining full-sun areas of our yard —  and are terracing it to plant some more decorative yet edible greens — such as Swiss chard and Tuscan kale. I hope it will be complete by next weekend and I can get the seeds in the ground before it’s too late!

We’ve cleaned out our herb garden too and have planted a bunch of seeds.  I honestly don’t even remember which ones now!   The lavender is still kicking and the chives have returned on their own as well.

And if you recall, last fall I stuck some broccoli and kale in the ground.  They didn’t quite reach maturity before winter, but three plants each persisted tenaciously through the cold and snow, and as soon as the weather was somewhat consistently in the 50s, new leaves and growth starting bursting up.  I hope I’ll be able to harvest them soon!

I can’t wait for everything to start taking shape.  What are you planting this year?

-R