Fried Okra a la Griffith

I joined a community garden today because my backyard garden has failed me two years in a row. Either there’s not enough sun, the squirrels are eating all my seeds and seedlings, or I’m doing something horribly wrong. I stopped by the garden at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Oak Cliff to see the plot, and the pastor told me to take some okra while I was there because they had too much. And he really wasn’t kidding. There were three plots completely full of 4-foot okra plants, so I took a good amount. I cooked it up for dinner tonight according to Boyfriend’s mother’s recipe, and it totally worked! I’ve never made it before at all, so I was glad it turned out edible, much less good. It’s not a total coating like in restaurants. I did learn that if okra is hard when you pick it, it’s going to be tough and gross when you chew it, like the tough ends of asparagus that get chopped off. Use the okra pods that are a bit spongy, and you’ll get a lovely result.  Here’s the “recipe,” which actually came from his paternal grandmother.

FRIED OKRA A LA GRIFFITH

*Slice okra into rounds

*Season cornmeal/polenta with salt and pepper

*Roll okra rounds in seasoned cornmeal

*Heat oil in pan

*Fry okra in batches small enough for pieces to spend time on the bottom of the pan, for a few minutes, until soft

*Drain on paper towels before serving

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2010 Checklist

The summer hibernation has begun. Time to slow down a bit and take stock.

Name in the credits on national television: Check.

Hiked one of the Wonders of the Natural World, the Grand Canyon, with my father: Check.

Fell in love with a wonderful man: Check.

Other highlights include being a movie extra, conducting an interview with a FEMA director, walking the streets of Washington, D.C. and seeing Julie Child’s kitchen, buying myself an awesome queen-sized bed, taking my Soul Twin on her first trip to Austin, constructing my very own raised garden bed, surviving a gym class including both yoga and dancing without crying, touring Las Vegas with my family for my sister’s 21st birthday, learning to appreciate hockey, helping my sister try on wedding dresses, and making a peach tart from scratch. So far, 2010 is looking pretty good!

Hmm. A little like humans.

This made me giggle. Maybe the vegetable world isn’t so different from ours.

“Asparagus plants are naturally either male or female. The female plants bear seeds, which take considerable energy from the plant and sprout new seedlings, which cause overcrowding in the bed. Male plants produce thicker, larger spears because they put no energy into seeds and have no weedy seedling problem.”

http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/asparagus1.html

Garden, March: Planting Asparagus and Potatoes

I’m 100% certain that the asparagus crowns (year-old root systems that look like a mop) I just planted were not done so correctly. But they were also sprouting inside the plastic bag, so they needed to get into the ground ASAP. You’re supposed to dig a full-on trench so that the soil that’s put back in is loosened and amended with compost and fertilizer and the shoots have soft ground to move through, but I just don’t have the energy for that at this particular moment, so I just loosened the soil a bit and then dug holes for each crown.

I don’t know if these will take. Asparagus apparently doesn’t like competitors, and there’s a small tree fairly nearby whose roots are running all through the soil. I pulled up as many as I could, but they may get strangled or crowded or whatever happens under there to make a plant fail. I chose the spot anyway because it’s off to the side and gets a lot of sun. We’ll see!

The broccoli plants are growing, and the tiny heads are starting to form and get a little bigger every day.

The spinach sprouts are getting bigger…

The radish sprouts are turning pink at the bottom…

And the carrots finally sprouted! The second photo is the accidental carrot explosion!

I’m trying potatoes in a barrel again this year. The problem last year was that there wasn’t enough real dirt mixed in with the bagged soil, compost, and fertilizer. The only place the potatoes grew was down at the very bottom, where the added soil mixture met the ground. So, here, I used mostly real dirt with some earthworm castings mixed in. I’ll add more compost and fertilizer along with more bagged and existing soil as the plants grow, slowly building up the height of the barrel, about 3 inches at a time. Hopefully that will leave me with potatoes all along the way up. No sprouts yet.

By the way, if you buy a roll of chicken wire, unroll it with someone else’s help. I attempted it alone, and it scratched the heck out of me. I felt like I’d been attacked by a pack of cats. So…potatoes and asparagus. Stay tuned.

Spring Garden Miscellany

A few interesting things occurring in my garden…

1. We’ve had some over-70-degree days this week, which means my red-leaf lettuce is bolting! That means the growing stalks up the middle are going to shoot up some flowers and therefore seeds. In this picture the red-leaf are the two reddish ones to the right of the onions – you can see on the top one that it’s getting taller. I’m going to try my hand at harvesting and saving some of those seeds to plant next time. I’ve never done this before, but people have been doing it since the beginning of agriculture – so I think I can figure it out. Hopefully.

2. I have spinach sprouts! The radish sprouts came up last week, but the spinach just broke the surface in the last couple of days. I feel so much better. The suspense was killing me! The carrots still haven’t appeared. Wondering if the seeds were too old or something.

3. The more Swiss chard I pick, the more new growth suddenly appears. I was trying to conserve because the plants weren’t producing much, but I decided I should just go for it before it gets too much warmer, and lo and behold, they are looking better, bigger, and brighter every day. So interesting! The same has been happening with my other lettuces – arugula (far bottom left) and the mesclun mix (bottom middle and second photo). They are the very definition of sustainability, and I’m so thankful to be able to walk out my back door, grab a handful, wash it off, and have a salad or drop some chard into a sautee pan or a pot of soup. I have long since blown past the $2 each plant cost me in savings at the grocery store.

Janie’s Garden 2010

So, as of about a week ago, I’ve officially been a gardener now for a year! The 2009 community garden experiment went better than I ever could have expected, and I learned so much. This year, I have a house with a back yard, and I built my own raised bed out there. I’m hoping that with it right outside my door, I’ll be able to tend it more consistently than I did last year. I won’t have the help of fellow garden-mates, but I think the proximity trade-off will be a beneficial one. That, and I get to enjoy all of the food myself instead of splitting it into four portions. So here we go!

I measured my space, went to Home Depot and had them cut wood for me, and I nailed them together using the fence as a fourth wall. Never bought nails before. Felt like a grownup! This weekend, I added more existing soil from my driveway, organic garden soil, compost, and Redenta‘s bed starter. Mixing them all together took arm strength, and it reminded me of mixing our own concrete for the foundations when we were building houses through Amor in Juarez.

The planting took no time at all, compared to all the soil business. I planted some leftover red onions from Old Roommate, and I planted broccoli, Italian flat-leaf parsley, English thyme, three rows each of two kinds of radishes (Cherry Belle and French Breakfast), spinach, and carrots. I had an accidental carrot-seed explosion over by the carrot rows, so I just patted them in and will hope for some extra, accidental carrots. I bought asparagus crowns, but digging an asparagus bed is heavy duty work, more than I had time for yesterday, so that will go in some time this week after the rain stops. I’m not digging up that much soil when it’s wet and heavy. I know I most likely will not live in this house in three years, which is how long it takes to get asparagus out of the planted roots, but I’m not getting to enjoy the harvest of the one I dug into the community garden, either, so that’s okay. I think leaving an asparagus legacy in my wake is a good thing, whether or not I get to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

I’ve still got my winter garden over to the right side of this bed, and the red-leaf lettuce has slowed down, but the onions, arugula, cilantro, and especially the 6 Swiss chard plants are still going strong! There’s garlic growing in the pre-existing landscape bed near the driveway fence, and at last count, I’ve got 41 bulbs working. I may actually get to make a garlic braid like you see in stores! I’m so excited to start over this year with my own little garden. Having any clue what I’m doing is a major victory, even if there are some bumps along the way. And so it begins…

Iron Chef America at the White House

I hesitate to get into politics here, but I will just say that THIS is exactly why I voted for Obama. I am endlessly impressed with the White House vegetable garden’s existence to begin with; I think it sends all kinds of great messages. But THEN they shot an episode of Iron Chef America where the secret ingredient was anything from the WH garden, and the first lady made an appearance. ON THE FOOD NETWORK. Bobby, Emeril, and Mario got to traipse around in the garden, gather vegetables, and then go cook with them for the competition (yes, I know the actual vegetables weren’t used for taping in NY, but that’s not the point). In the kitchen, they paired the vegetables with proteins grown/raised within 100 miles of Kitchen Stadium.

[Photos are from foodnetwork.com]

This episode had me glued to the TV. But I think I’m mostly impressed that there is a place on the U.S. government’s website to communicate with citizens why it’s important to create and support local food systems. (I am not giving you a free pass, USDA – you have big issues – but this is a step in the right direction.) Bush did some great things – I’m not saying he didn’t – but this is an important issue for me, and it’s one that his administration didn’t care about, and I love that the Obama administration followed through on their campaign promises to support it. Say what you will about their position on health care reform or the expense of supporting environmentally-friendly policies; if more people grew food in their own communities, understood the ramifications of what they were eating on any given day, and took control – even a little – over their own food supply, there would be cleaner air (no need to overnight those bell peppers from Holland before they spoil) and healthier people to begin with, hence less need for expensive health care and environmental legislation. Call me naive if you like – but small choices like these add up in a big way, and I’m so very glad our President is paying attention.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/16/planting-winter-garden