Primalized Sesame Chicken

Posted By on August 2, 2014


A decent-sized head of broccoli—and with any luck I will still get some side florets developing as well

After a week of torrential rain, I finally got to spend some time in the garden weeding, clearing out bolting cool-weather crops, and filling in a few new sections for fall harvest. My broccoli heads are all just about ready to harvest—I brought in the largest one, which looked like it was thinking about flowering, and decided to show it off in a stir-fry recipe with chicken thighs.

My favorite go-to dish to order at Chinese restaurants is sesame chicken, the one with crispy battered chicken and a sweet-spicy glaze. Obviously I have not been able to eat this since going gluten-free, but no more! Garbanzo bean flour makes an ideal coating for fried chicken tenders or fish sticks, either tossed with the meat dry or mixed with water for something like a pancake batter consistency. Here, I combined the garbanzo bean flour with sesame seeds, and ended up with crunchy, savory chicken nuggets that are tasty on their own but even better topped with stir-fried broccoli and spicy-sweet sauce. Honestly, I think this version of sesame chicken is superior to all of the wheat flour versions I have tried in the past—I had zero trouble with the coating coming off at any point in the process, and the flavor and texture was perfect.


Ready for dinner—basmati rice, sesame chicken, and sauted broccoli and red onion

Below I have listed minimal adjustments to the original recipe, but I actually used pre-reduced chicken stock concentrate rather than boiling it down on the spot, and made my sauce from tamari, Ginger People’s sweet ginger-chile sauce, sesame oil and a teaspoon of organic cornstarch to thicken it up—these just happened to be the choices I had available in my fridge. I chose simply to top the chicken with broccoli, onions and sauce on the plate rather than adding it to the skillet first, in hopes of keeping the texture crispy—this approach worked nicely.

Sesame Chicken with Broccoli

For basic kid-friendly chicken nuggets, just make the nuggets and leave off the trimmings. These also reheat nicely in the oven, maintaining their crisp exterior without getting flabby; using chicken thighs rather than white meat also helps maintain some moisture if you intend to reheat.

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Garbanzo bean flour, for dusting
1/4 C sesame seeds, preferably unhulled
1/4 C avocado oil (or coconut oil or lard)
2 T minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 C homemade chicken stock, or 1-2 T stock concentrate
1 lb broccoli, stems peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds, tops cut into florets
3 T oyster sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, season the chicken with salt and pepper, and toss with garbanzo bean flour and sesame seeds to coat thoroughly.

Coat a large skillet with avocado oil. Add the chicken in an even layer and cook over high heat, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until browned on the second side, about 2 minutes. With tongs, transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and put it in the oven while you finish the dish.

In the oil remaining in the skillet, cook the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the broccoli, cover and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the oyster sauce, season with salt and remove from the heat. Gently stir in the chicken and sesame oil and serve with steamed rice.

Source: Adapted from Food and Wine

Banana Boats

Posted By on July 31, 2014

We ran into Whole Foods for just a few items yesterday afternoon, and as I was zipping through the produce section on the way to the back of the store for eggs, an item low on the refrigerated shelf caught my eye—fresh banana leaves. I had never seen them for sale either fresh or frozen, and I couldn’t resist picking some up. They immediately made me think of fish en papillote, so I picked up a fillet of turbot for last night’s dinner, and sat down with the computer to research cooking methods.

Amid recipes for grilled or baked fish simply wrapped in banana leaves, I ended up choosing a somewhat more challenging dish called Cambodian-style amok fish, in which the fish is thinly sliced and steamed along with veggies and a curry-scented coconut custard in a handmade banana leaf boat.


A little wonky, but it evened out once I filled it with fish and veggies!

My banana leaf boat did not come out looking quite like the ones in the photo because it was a little hard to see the initial fold in the instructions, but I managed something passable that successfully held all of the ingredients without leaking. The plan had been to make one boat per portion, but I could only fit one at a time into my little steamer basket, so in the end I loaded it down with a double portion and called it good.


Ready for its sauna

You can’t see the layers at all, but there was shredded bok choy on the bottom, followed by tiny whole cinnamon cap mushrooms, sliced shiitake mushrooms, and thinly sliced red onion and Swiss chard stems; on top of that I piled up the sliced turbot. The coconut milk custard poured over top was seasoned with red curry paste, fish sauce, and julienned whole fermented Key lime, and I garnished the lot with some julienned sorrel from my garden.


I let my banana boat steam for 20 minutes, and then served it up with a side of quinoa. I would have liked to leave it in the banana leaf for dramatic presentation, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to remove it from the steamer intact—oh well! It tasted very good, and the little bites of fish and veggies were just Theo’s size, although he may have been even more enthusiastic about his first taste of quinoa. Jeremy said he could taste the flavor imparted by the banana leaves, but I am still recovering from a minor cold and it was lost on me. The other aspect that left me scratching my head a bit was the custard, which was almost undetectable—maybe I should have doubled the amount for my large boat?

Regardless, it was a fun meal, and a nice change of pace. I still have some banana leaves leftover, and am thinking of lining my VitaClay with the leaves and doing a slow-cooked cochinita pibil.

The Carnivore

Posted By on July 22, 2014


No recipe at the moment, just an adorable photo of my paleo poster-baby noshing on a rib bone. These were baby back ribs dry-rubbed and braised in the VitaClay for 2.5 hours, then brushed with a homemade barbecue sauce featuring sour cherries, dried figs and rosemary. Heckuva better teether than a plastic toy, don’t you think? :)

Balsamic Salmon and Succession-Roasted Salad

Posted By on July 21, 2014


The kale bounced back from that hail storm in record time

So things were looking pretty bleak in the garden after the big hail storm, and we have had rain pretty much every single day since, so it has been hard to find a good time to get in there and clean up the mess (and the proliferating weeds). The lettuce and radishes, and many of the other greens as well, took a cue from the stress of hail damage and finally decided to bolt. The Tuscan kale is in relatively better shape, and the nice thing about its sturdy foliage is that, even hail-mangled as it was, I was still able to harvest an armload of usable leaves. Hard to tell the difference once it is all chopped up and roasted!

I love this sort of throw-as-you-go meal because everything basically just goes right in the oven as soon as you prep it—no fuss and no wasted time, yet with a really well-rounded rounded flavor. If you are efficient about your time management, the entire meal can be on the table in 25 minutes. Theo gobbled down every last roasted grape and clamored for more, and Jeremy said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the salad was cooked instead of raw.


Hot out of the oven and ready to eat

Balsamic-Glazed Salmon with Succession-Roasted Grape and Kale Salad

1 C organic black or red grapes, sliced in half
1 large bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 small sweet onion, thinly sliced on the vertical axis
1/4 C feta cheese, cut into 1/2″ chunks
Avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste

2 wild salmon fillets, skin on
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/3 C balsamic vinegar
1 T sucanat

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large glass casserole pan or sheet tray, toss grapes with avocado oil to coat, and place in the oven. After 5 minutes, add the kale and onion to the casserole, and toss to coat with avocado oil. After 5 more minutes, add the feta and toss gently; continue roasting for 10 more minutes, for a total of 20 minutes.

Once you get the veggies roasting, season the salmon with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet to medium-high with a splash of avocado oil and the thyme sprigs; sear the salmon skin-side down until three-quarters cooked, then flip and cook the other side briefly. Meanwhile, combine the balsamic vinegar and sucanat in a small saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat and reduce to a glaze consistency.

Stir the roasted kale salad and season to taste. Brush the balsamic glaze over top of the salmon fillets, transfer them to the top of the kale mixture, and roast for 5 minutes or until cooked through.

Source: Inspired by the Food Network blog and Daydream Kitchen.

The New Standard

Posted By on July 20, 2014


All that was left of the batch by the time I got around to photographing it


One of the recipes Jeremy has requested most over the years is my double-pumpkin chip muffins, so it stands to reason that this has also been one of our most missed recipes since going gluten-free last fall. Yes, I probably could have just substituted a gluten-free flour mix for all-purpose and forged ahead, but virtually all the baking I do these days is grain-free and low in sugar, in order to keep our diets as nutrient-dense as I can manage.

Last month I tried my hand at a grain-free pumpkin bundt cake recipe. It was too moist to come out of the pan neatly, so it looked a mess, but it also tasted great and turned out to be the perfect substitute muffin recipe for our old favorite.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake (or Muffins)

4 C almond flour (or sub 1/2 C with tapioca starch)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 T cinnamon
3/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3 eggs
3/4 C unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk (or grassfed cream)
1 (15 oz) can pureed pumpkin
1/2 C organic maple syrup
1/2 C organic molasses
1 tsp vanilla
About 1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare 2 dozen muffin cups. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, pumpkin, maple syrup and vanilla, then stir into dry ingredients. Dish out in quarter-cup portions and bake for about 20 minutes or until they spring back when touched.

If making as a bundt cake: Pour into a very well-greased pan and bake in oven for 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack before turning upside-down onto a serving platter.


I know they’re a hit when I can barely set one down to take a photo before Nolan is stealing it!

Garden Update July 2014

Posted By on July 13, 2014

This was going to be a straightforward garden update with some notes about what seems to be working and not working for me. But that changed thanks to yesterday’s weather.


Theo watching the hailstorm — it hit so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to pull the rack of drying diapers inside the house.

We had a massive thunderstorm that sat over our area for close to 12 hours, dumping massive amounts of rain, hail and maybe even a lightning strike a block away. The garden, needless to say, was pretty well flattened, and even some of the mulch around the beds got washed away as water poured downhill in my backyard. I am honestly not sure yet which plants will survive and which will be seriously delayed in growth, but it looks pretty grim at the moment. So some of these shots will be before-and-afters.


Popcorn and pumpkins here. One of the pumpkins is a start, the others are sprouts from seed that I had just about given up on (hence purchasing the start).

My little fence-side beds are mostly not doing so hot. Freyja likes to sit over there, so she flattened all of the sunflower seedlings except for one in the corner (and my mom pulled that one while volunteering her time weeding this week, unfortunately); the delicata squash I planted in front of the sunflowers never sprouted, which I think was a combination of the dog walking on them, lack of water retention in the soil there, and possibly too much shade. The bed with the asparagus crowns, lovage and rhubarb did nothing at all; I think the crowns and bulbs were already dried out by the time I planted them, and the lovage seeds didn’t get enough water early in the season. Some of the popcorn also got dog-stomped, but I had enough seeds to replant, and they have been doing quite well. I replanted squashes several times in this area, and finally got some Dickenson pumpkins to sprout; so far a Jack Be Little pumpkin start is also surviving here.


Herb spiral mostly survived the hail: parsley, burnet, marjoram, oregano, lemon thyme, chives, sage, gotu kola, garlic chives, and chervil

The herb spiral is doing pretty well. I am getting some soil run-off, so I think next season I should probably build up the base wall a bit higher and supplement soil. The spiral isn’t completely full, but I ran out of money to buy plants; I am planning to fill this with more hardy perennial herbs over time.


A wide shot of the raised beds

As you can see, the borders of the beds are pretty full of weeds, mostly lambsquarter, which I am loathe to pull since it is edible. I laid down mulch between the aisles, but at some point will need to put down landscaping fabric or something to keep the weeds better in check. I also mulched over the beds with straw, which I will talk about more in a moment. So, starting from the left:



Strawberries and borage with pole beans alongside my shed.

The pole beans are coming up pretty well, and are nearly tall enough now to reach the trellises I put up for them to climb. My strawberry plants are getting nice and big, but they don’t seem to produce a lot of berries. I’ve gotten just one or two small ones and shared them with Theo standing in the garden. The borage is getting ready to flower, and I am looking forward to adding that to salads, and maybe infusing tea or kombucha with the leaves.


The first two little zucchinis of many starting to develop…

At the front of the left-hand bed, my Black Beauty zucchini has been doing well and just starting to blossom and develop baby squash in the last week. It is much happier since I mulched, and no longer wilts so much in the afternoon sun.


Ground cherries starting to bloom

Inside the bed, arugula is growing well but starting to bolt. Icicle radishes and turnips are also starting to bolt; I have been harvesting them but most are much more leaves than roots. Fortunately, the leaves are edible and nutritious, so I don’t count this as a big loss, but am wondering what they are missing for more robust root development—fewer, deeper waterings? My onions are doing well so far, and the ground cherries I planted from seed have sprouted and surpassed the indoor starts in size; a few are even starting to bloom.


Calendula and baby basil

These calendula and basil plants are growing alongside my tomatoes, and are supposed to be good companion plants. I also have some basil starts, but they have been struggling ever since I put them in the ground and I pull off blossoms every time I check the garden, so I am hoping the seedlings will be more robust.


Tomatoes, bush beans, nasturtiums, and cucumbers

I finally got the tomato cages up, which wasn’t too easy with a few plants because they were getting big. My nasturtiums, also companions for tomatoes, are growing well here, but I have had a very hard time keeping cucumbers and beans alive for some reason. All the cuke seeds I planted would sprout and then shrivel up, so I finally got starts and have been watering them like crazy; somehow I had one cucumber seed migrate right under one of the tomatoes and of course that one seems to be doing well, so I’m just leaving it to see what happens.

The dragon tongue beans in this area keep sprouting and then turning yellow and dying. I have replanted several times with no success, and am trying to figure out what they need to be healthy. The folks at Phelan Gardens said they have heard of other people with my soil mix (the one from Don’s Garden Shop) having similar issues, and suggested amended with sheep and peat and using some liquid fertilizer, plus top-mulching with straw to retain moisture. I think it did make some difference, but the whole situation just puzzled me because I thought legumes were pretty unfussy to grow and put nitrogen and stuff back into the soil, so I did not expect them to give me so much trouble. I also lost a lot of garbanzo beans in this bed.


Lettuces and more bush beans

In the middle bed, I have two kinds of lettuces that are doing well despite the heat. The Freckles lettuce in the bottom of this photo is gorgeous, mild flavored, and has nice big leaves with no sign of bolting. The Black-seeded Simpson in the back looks a little weathered from the heat, but is also holding up nicely, if not growing as vigorously as I anticipated. In the center you can see a patch of calypso bush beans that are also struggling; they are faring a bit better than the dragon’s tongue beans, but still have pretty stunted yellowing leaves. To the left, mostly out of sight, I have a long row of purple hull peas, most of which are doing alright, but they seem to be growing slowly as well.


Kohlrabi forming a bulb

The healthiest plants in this entire bed are my kohlrabi plants. I thinned and transplanted a bunch of them last month, and every single one survived the move, so I will have more kohlrabi than I know what to do with soon. Some of the plants are starting to form little bulbs at this point, and all of them have lovely foliage.


Chard and beets with kohlrabi behind

I wish I could say the same for my chard and beets, which are getting eaten alive by leaf borers. I can see the eggs on the back of the leaves and have tried manually scraping and spraying with homemade insectidal soap, but that has done very little to slow the damage, so I haven’t been able to harvest much from these plants. The beets were thinned and transplanted at the same time as the kohlrabi, but most of the plants were unhappy being moved, so I lost quite a few of them (very different than my experience transplanting beets from our home garden to the community garden plot a few years ago). Hopefully the survivors will at least form good roots, and I hope to start replanting for a fall harvest in the next week or so; I am told that leaf borers are less of a problem in the fall vs. spring.

I also grew peas and spinach in this bed; the peas died and the spinach bolted before it was big enough to eat. I also have some interplants of carrots and radishes that are hanging in there, and a square foot of mesclun mix that seems to have transplanted itself as volunteers all over the bed.


Tatsoi bolting

Tatsoi or spoon mustard is one of my favorite types of greens. It is delicious raw or cooked, and looks beautiful in the garden. These plants are bolting like crazy in the heat, however, so I will soon need to pull them out and replant for a fall harvest.


Cole crops are doing great

This third bed is mostly cole crops, and they are all thriving, more so than anything else I have grown. Here you can see Packman broccoli and Tuscan kale, with red mustard, collard greens and rutabagas mostly hidden behind them.


Giant red mustard wilting

This giant red mustard is another of my favorite greens to grow. It grows quickly, has lovely coloration, and  a good mild flavor. This patch is pretty much shot from the heat, wilting and bolting, and has been hit a little bit by insects as well; it is time to pull it out and replant for fall.


Broccoli head starting to form

My broccoli is just starting to form tiny heads—so exciting! I also have a few savoy cabbage plants in this bed that are holding their own. The collards are doing well, and it looks like the rutabagas are mostly going to bounce back from the thinning and transplanting I did last week to give them more space.


Snow peas

I am finally starting to harvest a few snow peas. Half my plants died and the rest had pretty meager growth, much like the other legumes; my shelly peas all died, even after replanting, so this is all I was able to keep alive. Some of the pods were nibbled on also; I have seen a mouse in the beds on several occasions, so I think that is the culprit, although I’m not sure if there is anything I can do about him.


Homegrown spring mix: Freckles and Simpson lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi, and arugula

Here is some of the greens I harvested for a salad a few nights back. I was so proud of the production, and finally had enough growth to go out and harvest greens either for salads or cooking every single day. But after the storm yesterday, the beds look like this:


Hail-flattened turnips in foreground, so sad


Back porch pots after the hail

These are a few of my back porch pots after the big storm: at bottom is a bunch of mangled ground cherries; above them is a pot with holy basil and apple-scented geranium, and a pot of chocolate mint.


Back rail herb garden all flooded (water right up to the brim, but it is hard to see in the pic)

My porch rail herb garden mostly survived the hail, but got totally flooded with rain. Here you can see thyme, rosemary and lemon verbena sitting in a little lake.


Sweet potatos before and after


Bloody dock, sorrel and pineapple sage mangled by hail

The rest of my front yard plants were pretty severely hail-damaged too, but I don’t have as much actively producing harvestable foods here yet.


Amish paste tomato, before caging, with nasturtiums–this is right by the front walk


Amish paste tomato has the honor of producing first fruits

It looks like this big Amish paste tomato plant survived the hail mostly intact. It has been doing the best of any of my tomatoes, and it does have a cage on it now for support. I’m not so sure the Black Prince tomato on the other side of the driveway will fare so well though; it lost a lot of foliage.

Well, that was a little humbling, so I’ll save some of my other reflections on the garden’s progress for a different post, once I have a better sense of which plants will bounce back and which ones are goners. Stay tuned…


Grain-Free Flatbread

Posted By on June 22, 2014



This recipe has become one of our staples, so I thought it was time to share here. I came across it during my neverending quest for easy grain-free pizza crusts for Nolan. Since it has only two main ingredients, virtually no clean-up, and can be ready to put on the table in 20 minutes, this flatbread definitely fits the bill.

Nolan likes this flatbread as his main course topped with cheese (and allows the occasional addition of finely chopped meat or vegetables if sufficiently blanketed with cheese), but it is also delicious plain as a side with dinner, used in place of bread for sandwiches or wraps, or just slathered with hummus or almond butter (or fig compound butter!). For me, it fills the gap left by pita bread and wheat tortillas, where crepes and corn tortillas just can’t suffice.


The greens on this wrap represent my very first harvest from the vegetable garden—tatsoi, mizuna, and Freckles lettuce!

Grain-free Flatbreads

Preheat oven to 400F, and heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Place equal parts almond flour, tapioca starch, and filtered water with a pinch of salt in a mason jar or blender bottle; cover and shake thoroughly, until it forms a thin, uniform batter. I typically use 3/4C each, which makes about six 4-6″ rounds.

Pour about 1/4 C of batter at a time onto the hot skillet and allow to cook until it bubbles and becomes opaque on top (there should be some brown spots underneath); flip and cook the other side also, then transfer to a baking sheet. Once all of your batter has been cooked off, put in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Baking time will vary depending on how firm you want the bread—in my oven, 8 minutes makes an approximation of pita bread or naan texture for wraps and sandwiches, 10-12 minutes makes something a bit more leathery like pizza crust or a tortilla, and 15 minutes makes matzo-like crackers.

These are delicious plain, but can also be seasoned with dried herbs, garlic or onion powder, or even sweet spices like cinnamon. You could also make them “multigrain” by adding hemp hearts, sesame seeds or the like. If using these for pizza, bake for 8-10 minutes, add toppings, and broil until melty (or bake for an additional 5 minutes).

Source: Slightly adapted from Health Starts in the Kitchen.

How My Garden Grows: End of May 2014

Posted By on May 31, 2014

I know I just posted a garden update, but so many new little plants are shooting up that I had to go grab a few new photos. Most of the beans are already popping up: dragon’s tongue, purple hull peas, garbanzos, and the latest arrival this morning, calypso beans. Carrots, leeks and scallions are all finally to appear, some of which were planted way back in mid-April.


I always love watching beans come up — remarkable how quickly they grow! These are dragon’s tongue, and I also planted garbanzo, calypso, purple hull peas, and purple string beans.


Arugula, growing like—well—a rocket!


This may be the first year I actually get a decent yield of Tuscan kale.


Cherry Belle radishes interplanted with rows of carrots.


Beets, with kohlrabi sprouts in the foreground and Swiss chard in the rear.


Purple potatoes sprouting, along with what looks to be a bumper crop of weeds.

My big project this week was removing mulch and landscaping fabric from two areas around the house in the front yard and getting them planted with seeds and starts that are both decorative and useful in some way: either edible, medicinal or both. It is hard to see in this photo, but the bed on the right now contains sweet woodruff, bloody dock, and French sorrel, as well as some flower seeds. The bed to the left was just planted with flowers like lavender hyssop, calendula, bee balm, poppies, shiso, and dianthus.


Not much to see here yet—sweet woodruff, bloody dock, and French sorrel plants are in, along with some seeds.

While we were at it, I also planted some creeping/woolly thyme, pennyroyal and Corsican mint in a few choice spots around the front yard, mostly around edges and under the trees, in the hopes that they will spread for groundcover to replace our dead grass with edible, aromatic herbs.


Spaces between beds are now weeded and mulched, although I left the edible lambsquarter around the edges.

Finally, I’m in the process of weeding around the raised beds, and getting ready to lay down several bags of displaced mulch back there. I may also transport all the dead pine needles from the front and back to the side yard, which is covered with landscaping rock and weeds, in an attempt to suppress the ugliness.

Knuckle Sandwich

Posted By on May 24, 2014

Now that we have to go to Ranch Foods Direct every week to pick up our raw milk share, I have gotten in the habit of purchasing a few other items as well: duck eggs for the baby, bacon and raw grassfed cheese for Nolan, and interesting cuts of meat for dinners. A while back, I put a fresh pork hock in the basket, and then stared at it in the freezer scratching my head for a month or two trying to figure out how in the world to cook it.


Pork knuckle after braising and broiling

Turns out fresh pork hocks are also called knuckles, and apparently they are pretty popular in German cooking. I ended up braising it, and finishing it in the oven on a big bed of cabbage in my cast iron skillet.


A good German meal

I served the pork and cabbage with little German potato dumplings called Kartofelkloesse just for fun (made with the addition of an egg, and gluten-free thanks to sweet rice flour and potato starch), and drizzled a little brown mustard vinaigrette over everything. The pork was very tender and rich, the cabbage was tart, and the potato dumplings were delicate—altogether a very homey, satisfying meal.

How Does My Garden Grow? May 2014

Posted By on May 22, 2014


My main garden area: 3 raised beds and some trellises

I have been making progress in the vegetable garden slowly but surely in the month of May. Seeds are sprouting, transplants are taking root, and I am working on garden infrastructure like bean trellises and the new wire fence to keep Freyja from trampling my snow peas. I started planting peas, radishes, and greens in mid-April, but nothing really took off until mid-May, and I finally have some seedlings putting out true leaves: chard, beets, peas, turnips, and icicle radishes. This week, I have started planting warm weather crops like tomatoes, squashes and melons, beans, and the like—hopefully they will survive the hard rain and hailstorms that have suddenly been cropping up every afternoon.


View from the back corner of the garden space


Successive plantings of Swiss chard and beets are coming up quickly


Borage sprouts to the right of my new strawberry transplants

In addition to the tomatoes and squashes, I have also started planting out my herb spiral. It still has quite a bit of room for more plants, but at least this is a start. I’ll be doing some plants in the ground here, some mixed in among the veggies (basil, dill, and summer savory, for instance), and yet more in pots on my back porch rail, so hopefully I will have plenty for cooking this summer, and maybe even over the winter if I can keep the porch plants alive inside.


A few herbs in the spiral now: lemon thyme, marjoram, chives, German chamomile, and gotu kola, as well as garlic chive and chervil seeds


This was a tester: I’ll be growing some perennial herbs on the sunny spots of our north-facing porch railing, and hopefully overwinter them indoors

Part of the delay in planting was caused by our Mother’s Day snow storm, and below freezing temperatures that actually went a day past our historical last-frost date. I had been hoping to spend my Mother’s Day planting warm weather crops and transplanting tomatoes and herbs, but that was definitely not in the cards this year! Fortunately, the sprouts already in the garden, as well as the transplanted strawberries, all survived the cold snap with a little extra protection.


The start of the Mother’s Day storm of 2014

I have also been enjoying exploring the plants that are coming up in the backyard without assistance. We’ve eaten some dandelions already, and I am charmed by all the little early violets and now the strawberries that are blooming in the shade, which someone must have planted in previous years.


Volunteer violets blooming alongside our shed


Volunteer strawberries in a shady spot in the backyard—we’ll see soon how well they actually produce!

I’m also trying to figure out just what this weed is. It is growing like crazy (like a weed, one might almost say!), and my best guess at identification suggests it might be some sort of pigweed, which is an edible plant in the amaranth family. I haven’t attempted to eat any yet because I am not 100% sure—any of my readers care to weigh in? Last summer these plants got to be at least 3 feet tall in the backyard while I was busy nursing a newborn around the clock, so they could be a great source of greens on our plates if they are in fact edible.


Does this look like pigweed to you?


Another shot of our vigorously growing and potentially edible weeds

Another potentially edible wild plant: I suspect this to be lambsquarter, but I won’t be sure until they grow a bit larger. These are cropping up all around the raised beds, and would be a very welcome green if my guess is correct.


Are you lambsquarter?

I have a few starts going that have yet to be planted. I thought I might try my hand at sweet potatoes in containers this year, as I have several very large plastic container, and a nice sunny spot alongside our driveway that is otherwise an eyesore. With any luck, I will fill the planter with lush edible sweet potato vines and maybe even some tubers at the end of the season. I decided to sprout these in advance, and although they took a while to get started, I now have quite a few with good root systems and little leaves developing. We’ll see if this helps speed their growth any this summer.


Sweet potato slips in the making

I also decided to try sprouting some ground cherry seeds that I saved several years back from the community garden. I honestly wasn’t even sure if these would germinate, but they certainly did! They took a while to come up, but now they are putting out true leaves, and seem very happy on this windowsill with western sunlight for the moment. They should be ready to transplant in another week or two at this rate.


The ground cherries are starting to put out true leaves

Finally, I branched out into a new way of using up our kitchen scraps: vermicomposting! My little compost bucket is already full after maybe 6 weeks of use, and I will probably get a second one started, but from what I understand, worms can make short work of kitchen scraps and junk mail, so I thought it would be fun to give it a try. My mom and Theo helped me shred up some paper and cardboard egg cartons for bedding, and I introduced my new pets to their luxury habitat just a few days ago—they still seem to be alive, at least, but of course it is hard to know how much activity is going on in there. Time will tell!


My littlest helper, shredding and moistening paper for the worm bin


Vermiculture bin with damp paper and egg carton shreds, a few food scraps, and my first two dozen worms… vaya con Dios, wormies!

So far it has been a good start to the season. Now that my beds are established, next year I can work on getting things like peas in the ground earlier, and maybe I can even figure out an indoor growing system, a cold frame, or at least some good row covers to help get a jump on the season. I will also have lots more work to do in the front yard, where I am hoping to do some container gardening and establish a medicinal/edible flower and herb bed.

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