New for the Garden in 2015

pepper flower

I’ll be the first to admit it… I’m a tinkerer.  I can’t just leave well enough alone- whether it’s a recipe (even when I know it’s good!) or gardening, I always have to try a little something new.  Now that we’re getting our outdoor space settled and organized, there is some work (really, actually fun) to do! We were fortunate to get a lot of space for our yard, so there is plenty of room to experiment.

Last year, we put in our new garden and did a lot of yard adjustments.  While we did and will continue to fight the weeds back (organically) for the near future, I could no longer deny the glossy pages of the seed catalogs that beckoned with spring-y seductiveness all winter.  And don’t get me wrong, I buy local also, with the occasional detour for items that are fairly unique offerings.  Unfortunately, not everything is grown organic, but I figure that by doing things as organically as we can, we can mitigate that part somewhat.

Here are some of the new vegetables and plants we’re trying this year… More to come on the results!

Hops

I’ve started homebrewing, so a combination of a steady future supply of this essential ingredient and an abundance of fences make hops bines a perfect yard addition.  I’ve bought some locally and at beer fests, and I’ve seen collections in catalogs, but The Wine and Hop Shop had the most options and good quality, also.  (I think I have a few more varieties… and some wine grapes… in my future.)

Strawberries

Strawberry, Tristan (We liked the color of the flowers; they’re different!  And… strawberries.)

Pineberry, White Carolina  (Strawberries that taste like pineapple?  And we’re in a zone that can grow them?  Sign me up.)

Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberry (Another strawberry- another flavor.)

Attila Strawberry (I’m a fan of the productivity and flavor of alpine strawberries.  And these have runners!)

White Soul Alpine Strawberry (Strawberries… gotta collect them all!)

Vegetables

Potato, Blue  (These are just plain interesting.  Several catalogs have them, but I haven’t seen them in stores yet.  The story partially behind purchasing them is that my father and grandfather would argue over whether white or red potatoes, respectively, were better.  I guess I’m obligated to like blue ones best!)

BEIRA TRONCHUDA PKT (Maybe not a true kale, so my wife will be extra disappointed…not really.)

Scarlet Runner Bean  (The color of these, flowers and seeds, is just awesome.)

ORACH PURPLE PKT  (I can’t say I’ve ever had a salty leafy vegetable, but it will be a nice contrast in the garden and should be a healthy add-in to salads.)

‘Strawberry Spinach’ (Neither strawberries nor spinach- it should be good for salad.)

Santon Charentais Melon (I am a fan of melon varieties, especially the non-standard/rare ones.)

Tigger Asian Melon  (These will stand out in the garden for sure.)

Petit Gris de Rennes Melon (The melons I bought are all open-pollinated, so they will grow true from saving seeds- versus hybrids.)

Long Island Cheese Pumpkins (These are a recommended variety to use for pies.  I also like to make pumpkin risotto or pumpkin soup.)

Herbs

Shiso Green Perilla Aoshiso (I have red shiso/perilla.  It’s extremely easy to grow from seed and makes an attractive contrast plant with the leaves and flowers.  It has a wonderful aroma and appealing basil-like oil to the leaves and can be used as an herb for cooking.  Just be careful when it gets close to seeding or you may end up with them everywhere.  It didn’t do too poorly in a pot last year as long as I kept it watered.)

Garden Sorrel (It’s perennial, and can be used in salad.)

Grain/Seeds

Quinoa, Brightest Brilliant (Quinoa is not just trendy; it is truly healthy!)

India Red Popping Sorghum  (I thought this might be an alternative to growing popcorn along with sweet corn.  We’ll see how this grows and how it tastes.)

Emmer Wheat (Since I’m getting into brewing, it looked intriguing.  The note about the old variety sometimes being more palatable for those with gluten issues piqued my interest.)

Et Cetera
Passion Flower, Maypop (We think it has neat-looking flowers, and I’m a fan of anything edible- maximizing use and utility of space.  Oh, yes, and we still have lots of fences for vines.)

Lilac, Dwarf Josee Reblooming   (My wife adores lilacs; this one blooms for quite a while.)

Luffa Sponge, Packet  (I thought we’d give these a try to see if we could grow some sponges.  The biggest challenge will be the time to maturity.)

PEANUT JUMBO VIRGINIA (This is another item that might be a plant maturity stretch, but I’m willing to give it a go.  Not many catalogs had peanuts for sale.  The flowers are a nice accent in the garden.)

SILVER BELLS TM CHOCOLATE VINE
VIOLET CHOCOLATE VINE  (Not actually chocolate… they just smell like it!  The seed pods are tasty too!  At least one of each vine is needed.)

Apios Americana “Potato Bean/Groundnut”  (I’m still debating on which vendor I will use to get this, as it’s not offered in many catalogs I can find.  I discovered it via the linked blog.  This flowering native plant with edible parts looks well worthy of growing. Ahem… fences.)

Sunberry/Wonderberry  (An interesting find… appears to be an annual.)

Trees
Fir, Korean (Blue pine cones!  Blue pine cones!)

Redwood, Dawn (I was intrigued partly that this is an ‘older’ type of tree.  Not too long ago, I read that it was somewhat recently fairly rare.)

Phew!  It’s a lot of seeds and plants, but time and the season will tell what the garden and yard may provide.  As you may have noticed, I’m a fan of the rare and/or different.  And don’t worry, we’re still growing the classics, too.  What new plants are you trying this year?

Steep It!

Lately, I’ve been coming across recipes that call for steeping items over a period of time, so savor the spirit of slow with me!  I started homebrewing recently, and while I don’t know that I’d describe the brewing process with “steeping” at any point, essentially that’s what I did with the last batch to infuse some cherry flavor during the fermentation process.  As long as we’re on the subject of alcohol, let’s start with a primer on extracts.  Those tiny bottles in the stores aren’t the cheapest item on the shelves, so let’s see how to make our own vanilla extract:

I’ve got a batch processing in a small canning jar, and it has gone along nicely.  It is handy to know that it is essentially an endless/bottomless recipe, too!  I was also referred to a similar recipe by a friend and found it again in a vanilla cookbook at a resale store (it also mentioned vanilla sugar!)

For more adult beverages, we can make coffee liqueur or orangecello.

Another intriguing idea was to infuse honey using lemon verbena leaves to impart the lemon flavor (pouring the honey over the leaves in a small canning jar).

Steep it good!

Happy New Year! (A Future Toast and Dandelion Redux)

Dandelion Wine (from Allrecipes)

Happy New Year to all!  Wisconsin’s January still means we are still in winter’s grip, but that reality doesn’t stop my thoughts of upcoming warmer days or garden planning!  I’d be lying if I wrote that I wasn’t thinking about what to plant and harvest in the upcoming year, even though we are still a ways away from anything resembling spring planting weather.  New this year for our family and for my blog will be recipes for homemade baby food.  I am hoping to avoid store bought mush as much as possible.  But first- a springtime recipe more for adults!

We are in pre-dandelion status, and I have written before about my ‘natural’ and dandelion-strewn lawn.  Now that we have a larger yard and undoubtedly a forthcoming abundance of the not-a-menace-for-me, I thought I would find a recipe to eventually try making dandelion wine.  I never have before, but there appears to be no shortage of recipes online.  (It almost goes without saying that it likely is not a good idea to spray your lawn with herbicide if you intend to make some…)  Cheers to 2015!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish clover

Irish Clover Image by George McFinnigan

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!  Whether you are Irish or not or Irish by affiliation (mine is through my wife’s side of the family), be sure to celebrate with good food and beverage.  Learn the history of the day, get some ideas for green food, make green eggs and ham with Chef Fabio, or make a classic, like corned beef and cabbage with your slow cooker.  Or have corned beef and cabbage made with Guinness® with a glass of Guinness® and enjoy the river dyed green!

Drunken Valentine’s Day Eve

Chow Ciao logo

What better on Valentine’s Day Eve (or national ‘Eat Italian Food Day‘) than to look to a classic Chow Ciao! for some last minute recipe ideas: Drunken Spaghetti!  In keeping with the red wine theme, Chef Fabio also offers a recipe for Red Wine Risotto via his website.  In either case, you have an excellent meal idea for Valentine’s Day.

A Taste of The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned

My wife and I went to The Old Fashioned (“Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs”) for a late dinner (if you can call our meal at near-midnight dinner) the other night.  The restaurant is located on the capitol square in Madison, Wisconsin.  We were quickly seated at a nearby table of our choice.  The space was comfortable, and allowed us enough room amid the other customers.  The music was a touch loud, but not unexpected for that time of night.  I sampled the brew of the month, and was happily surprised with a second glass free for their double bubble special.  It was an excellent beer to pair with my meal.  I was torn between the mac and cheese (which I’ve heard is delicious) and the No. 36 – beer battered walleye sandwich, which was my eventual selection.  I also upgraded to include a cup of their beer cheese soup (with popcorn!), but this was no mere cup.  The portions on both my soup and my fish sandwich were appropriately generous, making the meal a great deal for the price.  The soup was wonderfully tasty, and not over-reduced and thick as I might have feared for that time of night.  It paired well with my fish sandwich, which had a nice crunch with the toasted bread and cabbage/radish complement.  The tartar sauce was unique and flavorful.  My wife had a bowl of chili (also very generous-sized), and we also split an order of cheese curds.  Everything was excellent, and service was speedy.  Our server was welcoming and friendly.  We’ll be back, and I recommend giving the restaurant a try if you have not already.

Cider!

Crispin Cider logo

I had the good fortune of discovering Crispin Cider at the (hooray- annual!) Mount Horeb Thirsty Troll Brewfest.  I’ll admit I’m fairly open to trying a variety of beverages, and amidst the beer distributors (also very good!) was Crispin.  I’m a fan of all their varieties- more specific reviews to follow!  I just noticed that their site also links to Fox Barrel Pear Ciders, which I also enjoy.  If you’re looking for something new to try, don’t be afraid of hard cider or pear cider- they’re excellent!