Cucumber deliciousness

Cucumber avocado smoothie

I waited so long for my cucumbers to start producing, and now I’m inundated with cucumbers like so many others. But I do love them and don’t want to let a single one go to waste. So, I’ve made pickles and gazpacho and tomato-cucumber salads.

But my newest obsession is a cucumber smoothie. I’m generally not a fruit smoothie fan, but this is a riff on a soup standby at this time of year, cucumber bisque. A smoothie made from crisp, light cucumbers refreshes and quenches and is infinitely soothing.

I’ve tried quite a few combinations and I have to say my favorite is cucumber, avocado and yogurt. The best part of this smoothie is that you can add anything you want to it. And if you like, make it creamy with yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or coconut milk.

Plenty of cucumbers to come!

Add strawberries, blueberries, mango or pineapple for a sweet treat. Or cantaloupe and mint for a not-so-sweet breakfast treat.

Make it gazpacho-like with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Whip up a chai-flavored smoothie with some cinnamon, ginger, honey and coconut milk.

Basic cucumber smoothie

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 avocado
½ cup yogurt, Greek or regular
½ cup milk of choice (oat, soy, cow, buttermilk, coconut)

Blend until smooth. Add more milk as necessary to make it drinkable. Salt to taste and top with a squeeze of sriracha or tabasco if desired.

Simplicity in the Kitchen

I took a brief vacation from my blog but I’m back! And I’m in the thick of summer harvest, one of the most amazing times of the year. Every morning’s walk in the garden yields beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Garlic will be next and peppers are on the cusp of ripening. 

I spend much of my time in the kitchen simply grazing rather than planning and executing meals, but when I do actually plan a whole meal it tends to be as simple as possible. Blistered green beans, bruschetta with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil, sauteed greens. 

Blistered Beans

I’ve written about keeping things as simple as possible many times before but it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. A simple recipe avoids the tyranny of a long list of ingredients and a long prep time. Nothing is more discouraging than looking at a tasty recipe and realizing it has 23 ingredients, many of which you’ll need to go out and buy. 

And this time of year, there’s certainly no lack of fresh, delicious ingredients. I do love to cook and am grateful to share that love with you. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat good food, not too much, mostly plants.” And don’t be afraid to play with your food. 

Although the kale is finished for now in my garden, Swiss chard and mustard greens are coming into their own. Check out my blog post from April of last year for a primer on growing greens. 

https://wordpress.com/post/katesgardenkitchen.com/854

Here’s a fresh, simple way to prepare all types of greens 

Saucy Greens

  • 1 small bunch of Swiss chard or other greens
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ c. onion, sliced
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 t. Sugar 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ c. chopped tomatoes
  • 2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 T. sriracha sauce if desired
  • 2 large eggs if desired

Rinse the greens liberally and remove tough stems. Stack the leaves and roll them into a “cigar” and slice thinly. Add garlic and onion to olive oil in a heavy pan and saute until tender. Add greens, vinegar and sugar and saute about 5 minutes until greens are tender. Turn off the heat and stir in tomatoes and sour cream or yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in individual bowls and drizzle with sriracha sauce. Top with a fried egg if desired. 

Sauteed greens with tomato

Nano’s buttermilk biscuits

What a sublime treat – warm biscuits slathered with butter and homemade blackberry jam. Both of my grandmothers made biscuits almost every morning. Happily, I was astute enough to ask Nano how to make them. Of course she didn’t measure anything and was quite perplexed when I asked her to write down the recipe for me. But she did and I’ve treasured it ever since.

The great thing about this biscuit recipe is that it is useful for all number of dishes. You can drop bits of the dough into boiling stock for dumplings. You can add two tablespoons of sugar to make light fluffy shortbread to go with sugared fruit and whipped cream.

And my favorite, when I’m in the mood for something a little more fancy (or company’s coming) is to convert them into scones. Scones are simply biscuits with other things thrown into the mix.

The basic biscuit

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt
  • ¼ t. baking soda
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 c. buttermilk

Blend dry the dry ingredients. Cut in butter with two forks or a pastry cutter until it resembles a coarse meal. Add buttermilk and mix lightly, just enough to incorporate the ingredients. Be sure not to overmix. Pat into a loose ball, turn onto a floured board and roll out to about ½” thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Brush the tops with milk for browning. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.

Riffs on the biscuit

Blueberry peach scones

Scones:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk + more for brushing
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. chopped fruit: peaches and blueberries, strawberries, apples (add ½ t. cinnamon), cranberries (dried or fresh), rhubarb (add a bit more sugar), chopped nuts

In a small bowl, whisk the milk and egg. Mix the dry ingredients and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together with a fork.

Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead a couple times just until remaining flour becomes incorporated into dough.

Gently pat dough into a 1 inch thick round. Cut dough evenly into 12 different wedges or squares.

Transfer to prepared baking sheets. Brush with buttermilk. Bake until golden brown, 18-23 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Vanilla Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk any kind
While scones are cooling, add glaze ingredients to a small bowl and mix well until ingredients are incorporated. Drizzle over scones and serve.

Cheese scones

Follow the recipe above, replacing the sugar with ½ t. Ground pepper. Instead of fruit, mix in 1 c. shredded cheese of choice.

Slaw (this one’s for my sister)

I tend to wax philosophically about slaw, only because it’s such an easy salad and there are so many ways to make it. There’s the classic coleslaw which is made of shredded cabbage and carrots with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing. But there are so many possibilities to change it around. 

This time of year we have abundant greens like kale, bok choi, young beets, radishes and swiss chard. I simply shred whatever is fresh, dress it with my favorite dressing (usually a vinaigrette), and it’s good to go. 

Grill your vegetables!

Grilled cabbage

One way to spunk things up is to roast your vegetables. Cabbage actually holds up well to roasting or grilling, and the smoky flavor turns ordinary slaw into something otherworldly. You can also grill radishes, turnips and beets. 

Fresh radishes

Here are a few vegetables to add to your slaw that you might not have considered: 

  • Kohlrabi
  • Radish
  • Turnip
  • Rutabaga
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet bell pepper
  • Cauliflower
  • Bok choi
  • Celery
  • Apple
  • Napa or heading cabbage
  • Sugar snap peas
Use your imagination when combining ingredients for dressing.

Dressings

Dressings can run the gamut – bottled or homemade, creamy or vinegary, spicy or tame. Lime or lemon juice in place of vinegar in a vinaigrette gives a fresh, spring-like taste, especially to more tender greens like baby bok choi. 

Combine lime with sesame oil and a dash of honey for an asian inspired vinaigrette

Add cilantro, cumin and ground chile for a decidedly south-of-the border flair

Garnish with toasted flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or even chopped pistachios. 

Noodles!

Farfalle noodles with spinach, roasted peppers and shrimp

I know many of us reach for mashed potatoes when longing for comfort food. I reach for noodles. Any kind of noodles. Nothing delights me more than to find leftover noodles in the fridge because the possibilities are endless.

It’s so easy to make a delectable dish with only a few additions. All it takes to start is a bowl of cooked noodles. Add vegetables, sauces and proteins for a complete meal. Whatever your taste preference – Chinese, Italian, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese. It seems every culture has a favorite noodle dish.

I like to keep a few commercial sauces in the pantry, just in case I don’t have time to whip up a sauce of my own. Thai peanut satay sauce tossed with cooked fettucini or egg noodles, a couple of torn basil leaves and you have an “almost” pad thai.

Lovely leftover linguini or angel hair noodles tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce and a little sambal olek (garlic chile paste) make as good a cold noodle dish as any you find at an Asian food truck. All you need is the little white turtle box to look completely authentic.

Hot spaghetti noodles dressed with chopped fresh tomato, minced garlic, minced fresh basil and olive oil create a quick Italian noodle specialty that tastes like summer.

Pasta with kale and mushrooms

The types of noodles are endless, from long pasta like fettuccine and linguini to rice-shaped orzo to bowties and elbows. Asian noodles widen your repertoire with cellophane, Canton, and ramen noodles. The additions are also limitless – be creative with whatever you find in the fridge. Or, simply do as I do and heat leftover noodles, drizzle with olive oil and garlic salt and toss with parmesan. Mmmmm.

Here’s a kitchen hack I learned from a professional chef:

Cook your noodles until they are not quite done. A little less than al dente if you use that as a guide. When you drain them, do it over a measuring cup and save the pasta water. When you are ready to sauce your noodles, make the sauce and add the noodles. Then add about the same amount of pasta water as sauce. Heat everything gently. The noodles will finish cooking and the sauce will be velvety and delicious. You can certainly use broth instead of pasta water, but the water from draining the noodles thickens and adds extra flavor.

Also, when cooking noodles, salt the water more than you think necessary. Don’t put oil in the water. Put the noodles into rapidly boiling water and stir them for a while to separate. Turn down the heat and cook, watching them and tasting until they are ready. You can throw a piece of pasta against the wall, the old Italian way, and if it sticks, it’s done. Seriously, keep tasting.

Once done, return them to the cooking pot, drizzle with a little olive oil and put the lid on to keep them from becoming sticky.

Whole wheat pasta with sauteed romaine lettuce

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Pasta Primavera

2 minced garlic cloves
1 T. olive oil
1 c. fresh mushrooms
½ basket cherry tomatoes halved
½ roasted red pepper, chopped (jarred is fine)
¼ c. parmesan

Sauté garlic in stock. Add mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add rest of ingredients and cook 2-3 minutes. Add cooked penne pasta (or your choice), mix in enough leftover pasta water to make a creamy dressing.

Pasta with Fresh Herbed Ricotta

2 c. fresh spinach rinsed and stemmed
1 c. ricotta
2 scallions minced
¼ c. packed basil leaves, minced
1 tomato, chopped
1 T. parsley, chopped
2 T. olive oil
½ lb farfalle

Blanch spinach in salted water for about a minute. Drain, cool, pat dry and chop. Put the ricotta in a large bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, except the pasta. Cook the farfalle, saving the water. Toss with the cheese mixture, adding pasta water as necessary to make it creamy.

Caramelized onion pasta

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 T. tomato paste (about half a can)
6 oz. pasta of choice (penne works well)

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they become totally softened and caramelized with golden-brown fried edges, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add red pepper and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching until the tomato paste has turned from bright red to deep brick red, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Cook pasta until just a bit chewier than al dente. Mix with sauce and ½ c. pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring to coat each piece of pasta. Cook until the sauce is thick and sticky, 3 to 5 minutes.

Frittata or Clafoutis (the s is silent)

Blueberry and strawberry clafoutis

How can you go wrong with eggs, cheese and vegetables for breakfast (or lunch or dinner)? Or fruit baked in custard for dessert?

 Frittata or clafoutis is quick to throw together, quick to cook and can be served warm, room temperature or cold, giving you plenty of freedom in meal prep. One key to success is to cook in a cast-iron pan.

French clafoutis, Italian frittata, French quiche, Russian charlotte, timbale, pudding cake, cheese souffle and even panna cotta made with gelatin. All are basically custards with fillings. Some are made with a crust; many are without. These versatile dishes make excellent pot luck offerings, for brunch, luncheon or a light dinner. 

Once you have the basic recipe down, the riffs with different fillings and seasonings are endless. You can make them savory or sweet. You can also substitute 2 egg whites for 2 of the whole eggs. When adding vegetables or potatoes, saute them in a bit of olive oil first until crisp-tender. If you choose to add meat such as sausage, cook it first. 

Savory frittata

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Step 1: 

Savory: film a small cast-iron skillet with olive oil and put it in the oven. 

Sweet: preheat the skillet without oil, and when ready to cook, melt a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar over the bottom 

Basic mixture: 

5 eggs (or any mixture of eggs and egg whites of your choice) 

1 cup of milk (or cream or ½ and ½ or buttermilk)

1 T. flour

Step 2: whisk ingredients until well blended

Step 3: add embellishments and seasonings, pour into pan and cook for about 25 minutes until a knife comes out clean. You can put it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Serve right from the pan, either warm or at room temperature. 

To make into quick breakfast grab-n-go, pour into oiled muffin cups and bake 25 minutes at 325.

Suggested savory fillings:

  • 1/2 c. sautéed onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped sauteed chard or spinach
  • 1/2 c. roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 t. basil
  • 1/4 t. dill
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • fresh pepper
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan

OR

  • 1 c. cooked diced potatoes
  • 1/2 c. sautéed onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped sauteed chard or spinach
  • 1 T. fresh basil
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan or fontina cheese
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • fresh pepper

OR

  • 2 medium zucchini, grated
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 c. cooked rice or leftover cooked pasta
  • ¾ c. crumbled feta
  • Dill to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Suggested sweet fillings:

  • 1 c. fresh blueberries
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • ¼ t. cinnamon
  • ¼ t. almond extract

OR

  • 1 c. grated apple
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • ¼ t. cinnamon
  • Dash nutmeg
Blueberry and strawberry clafoutis

Cheese puff (one serving)

  • 1 ½ slices whole grain bread, buttered
  • ½ c. milk
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ c. shredded cheese
  • 1/8 t. onion powder
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 6-8 drops tabasco

Cut bread into strips; place with buttered sides down along the sides and bottom of a 10-oz ramekin. Lightly beat egg and combine with other ingredients. Pour into a ramekin. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. 

Fruit Clafouti 

A custardy delicious fresh dessert that is simple to make and delightful to serve. You can use any kind of fruit – cherries and berries are wonderful as are sliced peaches or halved plums or figs. Use whatever is in season. You can bake it a tart pan or pie plate, but a cast-iron skillet gives it a pretty browned edge. 

  • 1 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 c. fresh fruit, sliced and peeled if desired
  • 1 c. milk
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • ½ c. flour
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

Heat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with the melted butter and sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

Whisk milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.

Whisk flour into the wet ingredients, mixing until smooth (I actually use a blender to get it silky smooth). Pour the batter into the skillet and top evenly with the fruit.

Bake until a knife comes clean in the center, about 50 minutes.

Cool for about 15 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Best served warm.

Compost – most magical stuff

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Compost is one of my favorite things. It’s sweet-smelling, comforting to let spill through your fingers, and full of remnants of plants and memories from the garden. I feel like a real gardener when I take the front off a finished bin and the rich brown earth” spills out, still steaming slightly, and full of fat worms and sometimes partially recognizable fibers from last year’s begonias, corn husks, and dill stalks. 

It may seem odd to be so enamored with such common stuff, but then it’s a gardener’s right to be eccentric, isn’t it? Compost is a feel-good garden tool since it is evidence of recycling from the garden and kitchen. And the things it does for the garden are nothing short of magic. It not only improves the soil’s tilth (isn’t that a great word!) but also improves its nutrient-holding and water-holding, and provides some extra, inexplicable disease resistance for the plants. 

Compost is the ultimate soil conditioner, texturizer and nourisher, and something I need in unmanageable quantities right now. When I left my old garden, the one thing I couldn’t move was the compost. Composting is very personal, and I would never assume that someone moving into a new house would want to continue my compost pile. So, like a good, dutiful gardener, I politely spread all that was left on the existing beds for the next owners. It hurt, knowing that I would be starting anew, without compost, and here was all this black gold from which they would reap the benefits. 

But enough grousing at what I left behind. It’s time to concentrate on starting my new compost pile. Since I’m in the city, I don’t have lots of room for piles. So, I’ve started with a commercial recycled plastic bin and a wire bin for leaves. So far it seems to be working well. 

Wire bin with shredded leaves

I’ve never used any of the commercial compost accelerators or synthetic fertilizers, and it seems to be decomposing well with only occasional turning, the addition of soil and shredded leaves every so often, and occasionally some water. 

I don’t use commercial fertilizers in the garden, and I find that my plants thrive as long as I pay careful attention to the soil. The only thing I add is compost as a top dressing or mulch a couple of times a season. I wish I could say that I follow a careful schedule for this, but mostly I topdress when I have enough finished compost. I turn under what’s there in the fall and then add more the following spring. 

Even though I don’t have nearly enough compost to use this season, there is a great feeling of comfort at looking at my bin, knowing it will be chock-full by the end of the gardening season and just waiting to be emptied on next year’s garden.

One of the benefits of great soil is great vegetables. My peas are coming on strong, and it won’t be long until I get to enjoy them fixed in a myriad of ways. A favorite is green pea bruschetta or dip: 

Green Pea Dip or Bruschetta

1 cup shelled garden peas (or thawed frozen peas)

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves (you can change out the herbs to suit your taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Pulse in a food processor until almost smooth but there is still some texture left. 

Serve as a dip for fresh vegetables or spread puree on toasted slices of French bread and top with a dollop crème Fraiche and a swirl of Sriracha or chipotle tabasco. 

March garden tips

Lettuce seedlings ready to be planted

We made it to late March! Not that it won’t get cold again, but winter’s back is broken and now we can really look ahead to the gardening season. Let’s put a list of tasks on the fridge so whenever we have half an hour, we can accomplish something in the garden. 

  1. Gently remove dead foliage from around perennial crowns (no need to remove it entirely). Cut back to the ground all perennials and ornamental grasses that were left standing for winter interest.

2. Bulbs that begin to send up green shoots when the weather is prematurely warm will usually not be harmed by late frosts. There may be a bit of tip damage, but the flower buds are still protected beneath the soil and will bloom later just fine.

spring anticipation

3. Start pruning. However, be selective about which trees you prune. Avoid pruning trees whose sap runs freely in warm weather such as elms, maples, and birches. If pruned in spring they will “bleed” sap profusely. This won’t harm the trees, but it is unsightly. Prune these trees when temperatures are very cold or wait until late June.

4. Don’t be tempted to get into the garden when the soil is too wet. Working or walking on wet soil compacts it and makes it hard for roots to penetrate. Take a clump of soil in your hand and squeeze. If it oozes water, walk away. If it stays in a tight clump, walk away. If it breaks apart easily, get to work. 

Garden soil ready to plant

5. If a houseplant has roots growing through the drainage holes, roots on the soil surface, smaller than normal new leaves, or if it wilts between waterings, consider repotting. Plants recover best when in active growth, so do it now before it starts its spring flush.

6. Clean up all old peony foliage if botrytis blight was a problem last year. Put out peony rings or stakes while the shoots are still only a few inches or the leaves will begin to unfold making it hard to stake. Avoid overhead watering to prevent the fungus.

7. Plant garden, snap, and snow peas now. Seed them about 1 1/2 inches deep and 1-2 inches apart in single or double rows. Most peas need support to grow on, so put your trellis in place before seeding to avoid damaging tender seedlings. Mulch to keep the soil cool.

Snap pea seedlings

8. Put out a rain gauge. Monitor every few days during the rainy season to make sure that your landscape receives at least an inch of water a week. If it doesn’t, plan to irrigate. Put your gauge wherever you are sprinkling to make sure you get the amount of water you want.

9. Cut back ornamental grasses. Do it now so that you don’t clip the tops off of the newly emerging growth later in the season.

10. The earlier you get summer bulbs started, the better a chance you will have for bloom. Pot up caladiums, begonias, cannas, elephant ears, agapanthus, and calla lilies in sterile potting soil in a pot with drainage. Water with warm water and place on a bright windowsill until after frost danger is past.

11. If you haven’t yet removed your iris foliage, do this any time you have a reasonable day to get outside. Removing every shred of foliage now will take the eggs of iris borers with it and leave your irises clean for the season.

Dead iris foliage

12. If your soil dries out enough to rake lightly, you can plant your lettuce seeds. Sprinkle seeds on the soil and rake lightly. Even if the soil is moist, water in the seeds gently in order to get good contact with the soil. Make sure to keep them watered through the germination process.

Lettuce seedlings

Marinated Beet Salad

Beet salad with spiralized beets and beet greens

If you‘re lucky enough to have lettuce coming up in the garden, splurge on beets (most grocers have plenty), and prepare an earthy beet salad on top of fresh lettuce to refresh you and give you a glimpse into the garden to come. 

  • 2 beets
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. white wine or balsamic vinegar depending on your taste
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. honey
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1/2 c. diced red onion
  • 1 large hard-cooked egg
  • 1/2 T. parsley
  • fresh leaf lettuce as a base (use chopped beet greens if you choose)

Preheat oven to 400. Put washed, trimmed beets in a roasting pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and seal tightly with foil. Roast 1 hour or until beets are easily pierced with a knife; let cool.  Peel; cut into 1/2-inch chunks, grate or spiralize.  

Whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Toss beets with dressing and let stand 1 hour,  tossing occasionally.  Mix in onion. Finely chop eggs and mix with parsley.  Serve atop a bed of freshly torn lettuce.  Makes 2 generous servings. 

Get ready to garden

I did it again. We had one nice day and I ran outdoors like a crazy woman trying to do so many things before the weather turned. And, as usual, I hurt myself. I could hardly get out of bed the next day. 

Get garden tools ready. Especially the biggest tool – your body

I consider myself in reasonable shape physically, but the things one does when gardening are totally different than anything done at the gym or in yoga class. 

Gardening feels so good, that it’s a shame to go at it in a way that hurts. So, if I can give a little advice (and plan to take it myself) before the real garden season begins, add some strengthening exercises to your day so you can take a stronger body outdoors. 

Strong back

My worst offending hurt is my back. I know from physical therapists that most back issues come from a not-so-strong core, so that’s where I’m going to concentrate my exercises. 

Strong legs

In the evenings, I will pull out my mat and simply do whatever feels right to twist and pull and get my core in shape. It may sound silly, but you can actually do exercises that mimic actual movement in the garden such as hoeing, kneeling and stretching to prune a branch. As much as I don’t like doing squats in the gym, I do them constantly in the garden so they are valuable preparation for being outside. 

Strong hands

I also purchased one of those small tension balls to squeeze whenever I’m sitting, to get my hands stronger. I refuse to take my dad’s advice that the only way to get your hands in shape is to plunge them repeatedly into a bucket of ice (he was kidding). But even though the muscles in the hands are small, they are indispensable for almost every garden task, and having strong hands makes gardening easier. 

We all know that gardening is good for the soul, and that the food we produce makes us healthy on the inside. But gardening is so very good for the body because it does make use of all muscles. We use our hands when transplanting, arms when pruning and planting, our backs and legs when hoeing or mowing. I was shocked that even my feet were sore because I wore my muck boots for the first time of the season and my feet had to get used to them. 

Strong mind

Gardening is also wonderful for the mind. Our mental and emotional health get a lovely boost from doing something we feel is worthwhile and from being outdoors, in tune with nature. It’s hard not to be happy when looking at a freshly opened daffodil or a beautifully executed pruning job on an apple tree. So take that mental uplift and combine it with a strong body to get the maximum enjoyment out of your garden. 

Recipe of the day – one of my favorites for spring (I have been known to simply eat it by the spoonful)

Creamy Sorrel Sauce

(adapted from More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd)

Creamy sorrel sauce (image from Pixabay)

This lovely light green sauce can be modified in a lot of interesting ways, adding herbs like basil and dill, changing the carriers from mayonnaise to all yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, etc. You will love it on salmon, vegetables, potatoes and especially on freshly roasted asparagus. 

  • 1 c. any combination of plain Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream
  • 1 c. fresh sorrel with stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 T. soy sauce or 1 t. salt (soy sauce gives it more flavor but you can pump up the flavor with herbs also)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Blend (a blender works best to make a velvety sauce) and serve cold. 

Creasy greens

A weird-sounding name, right? I saw them advertised on the outdoor sign of our local greengrocer and just had to find out what they were. Evidently, these foraged greens are a delicacy served in the Blue Ridge Mountains for years. 

So I checked them out. They do occur naturally although they are not technically native. They’re bright green in early spring, followed by tiny yellow flowers. A cousin to watercress, they’re one of many plants in the mustard family that occur all over the United States. The flower is four-petaled just like arugula, radish and mustard. These greens are prized for their peppery taste. 

Pennsylvania bittercress or Creasy greens

As soon as our snow melted, a similar plant emerged in my garden, growing everywhere in moist landscape beds. In the past I simply pulled it and tossed in the compost as a regular weed. This plant has similar leaves to creasies, but the flowers are white and the leaves have a hint of bitterness in addition to the peppery flavor. My plant is Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica). Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, with yellow flowers.  

Now for experimenting. Sources I found said to either saute the leaves of either plant for a stir-fry or use them fresh in a salad. And, the roots can actually be ground and mixed with vinegar and salt to make a horseradish-like sauce. Evidently, both types of greens have amazing nutritional qualities – Vitamins C and A particularly. 

Plentiful in my landscape (thought they were only weeds)

I’ve never been a fanatic forager but this has sparked that early spring yearning to find bitter greens to add to a salad. They are spring tonics that really do renew the body. Now that I have these growing right in my landscape, I won’t have to go far for my spring tonic. I’m sure I can find a few new dandelions soon to add to the mix. 

Easy Creasy Greens (or any greens for that matter)

Film a skillet with about a tablespoon of oil of choice (sesame, olive, bacon grease)

Thinly slice half an onion and add to pan over medium heat. Saute until slightly tender. 

Wash greens, remove flower stalks if there are any, and coarsely chop 2-3 handfuls. Add greens to the onions and toss in the oil until coated. Cook briefly until the greens are wilted. Add a couple of tablespoons water or stock, a dash of cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve as a side dish alone or toss with rice or pasta. I found that mixed with kale and sauteed over pasta is an excellent way to serve them.