Category Archives: Garden

Late Winter to Spring

Despite the usual slogging through January and February (and it is a slog every year) March has nearly roared its way out. I catch myself questioning the same thing every year, “Where is all that wind coming from? Has it always gotten this windy?” I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer. Probably because there isn’t one.

I also haven’t figured out the mystery of the robins. For about a week in February they visited our yard in droves. No one I talked to could remember ever seeing them in such numbers. They hungrily munched through cedar berries and all the scattered bird seed meant for the other birds that generally visit this time of year. I think some stale cereal disappeared as well. And, honestly, seeing them in such huge numbers was borderline creepy. Can you imagine thinking of robins and a Hitchcock movie in the same category? That’s just wrong.

No matter how stealthily I moved I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the phenomenon. They were simply too fast for me.

Robins in the snow

Squirrels also number among the usual visitors. What was unusual here was that there was just one. My folks go through bags and bags of peanuts feeding the little moochers. We open the back door with caution.

Squirrel in the snow

When not shoveling snow other things happened, like receiving this very nice chair for my 25-year anniversary of working for the college.

25 year chair

And hopeful harbingers of spring showed up (other than the creepy droves of robins that is).

Seed packets

So now I’m tending carefully to these wee bits.

San Marzano seedlings
San Marzano tomato seedlings.
Basil and Pink Popsicle Cosmos in the background.
Basil and Pink Popsicle Cosmos in the background.
Lemon Calendula seedlings.
Lemon Calendula seedlings.

I’ve more in the trays—some varieties just now peeping through the potting mix. I’ve got the seed trays under a mix of warm and cool fluorescent lights but the seedlings are still a bit leggier than I’d like. I’m thinking I probably need a span of four light tubes rather than the two I’ve got. I’ll know in a few weeks how well this is going to work out.

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Ratatouille

It wasn’t until last summer that I discovered how easy it was to throw together a batch of ratatouille. The discovery came about more or less as an act of self-defense while trying to cope with the weekly bounty of a CSA (community supported agriculture for the uninitiated). Even though I had signed up for just a half share, I soon found myself in semi-desparate straights trying to figure out ways to use up the overflowing bag of vegetables I was bringing home each week.

This year I did not sign up for the CSA, but I did plant a garden which yielded lots of tomatoes. I’ve yet to realize much success with eggplant, thanks to the flea beetles, and I kept forgetting to plant the zucchini until it was too late in the season. But no matter. The market isn’t far and the tomatoes were demanding attention.

What I use is more of a formula than a recipe. It seems that every cookbook featuring ratatouille has a slightly different version, but in general they all include the same master ingredients. Quantities of each are somewhat flexible.

  • eggplant
  • zucchini
  • onions
  • garlic
  • peppers
  • tomatoes

For this batch I started with chopping a medium-sized onion. Swirl a little olive oil in a pot and toss in the onion to sauté gently. After the onion has softened a bit, add in the garlic. Soon the kitchen smells heavenly, unless you really hate garlic, in which case you should just stop reading now.

Ratatouille Aromatics
Aromatics

Next up is the eggplant and zucchini. I had two small eggplant and one medium zucchini. Since the eggplant were small I didn’t peel them. Next time I will. Japanese varieties tend to have more tender skin that regular eggplant. These were not the Japanese variety and the skins were a little tougher than I though they’d be. Since I had it, I  added a small yellow squash, too.

Ratatouille Vegs
Cubed eggplant and squashes

After sautéing for several more minutes, I added lots of seeded and finely chopped tomatoes. What you see here is about half of what actually went into the pot.

Ratatouille Tomatoes
Fresh picked tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Stir it all around and bring to a simmer. The final addition was a generous sprinkling of dried oregano and even more Sun of Italy Italian seasoning blend. Stir well. Turn down the heat so things stay at a gently bubbling simmer. Put a lid on the pot, but leave it at an angle so there’s room for steam to escape.

Ratatouille Spices
Herbs do their thing

By now the entire house smells absolutely wonderful and even the cat is starting to think vegetables might be the thing.

If you’re still following along you might be wondering what happened to the peppers. Seems they got left in the refrigerator drawer this time around. Had I thought to get them out I would have added them with the onion. Did I mention how flexible ratatouille recipes are? In with the yellow squash and out with the peppers. It’s still good. Eat a steaming bowl as is or spoon it over some linguini and pass the grated parmesan.