May 2010


Planting is nearly finished for the season in our ever-expanding herb and vegetable (and as of this year, fruit!) garden.  It’s been a busy month.  To last year’s perennial herb patch of mint, sage, and lavender I added oregano and lemon thyme.  An especially sunny spot along a side fence is now home to a black raspberry bush (coming soon to keep it company:  a strawberry barrel!).  And we installed a second, 4×6-foot vegetable bed, terraced below an identical bed built last year in the sunniest corner of the yard.

Clockwise from top left: pineapple mint; black raspberry; lemon thyme; sage & mint

I planted the first vegetable box with English and sugar snap peas, three kinds of pole beans (French gold, rattlesnake, and purple), red and green leaf lettuce, mache, dill, red and white onions, and white radishes.  The second box has basil, parsley, cilantro, pickling cucumbers, red bell peppers, and 6 tomato plants (black cherry, sungold, san marzano, sweet plum, and two heirloom varieties).

Clockwise from top left: cucumber seedling; peas; lettuce; beans, radishes, onions, dill

And aside from a bunch of daffodils that never bloomed, this season’s perennial flowers are off to a delightful start.

Clockwise from top left: creeping phlox; armeria red ballerina; bachelor's button; wildflowers salvaged from a 2009 preschool potting project

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Crunchy and chewy, tangy and sweet, this fiber- and protein-rich lunch travels well and sticks with you all afternoon.  French green lentils and short-grain brown rice are idea for salads because they hold their shape and don’t get mushy when dressed.  If you can’t find them, brown lentils and long-grain rice will also work.

Lentil and brown rice salad with dried cranberries and orange

Yield:  Makes about 7 cups

1 c. short grain brown rice, rinsed and drained

1 c. French green lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 navel oranges

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)

1 handful fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

3/4 c. dried cranberries

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, cover rice with cold water by at least 2 inches and season lightly with salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until rice is just tender, about 40 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.

In a separate saucepan, cover lentils with 2 inches of cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15-18 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.

Wash and dry one of the oranges and finely grate its zest into a large mixing bowl.  Peel and segment both oranges, chop the segments, and add them to the bowl.  (The best way to do this is to first slice off the top and bottom, then stand the orange on one of the flat ends.  Following the contour of the fruit and cutting just deep enough to remove most of the outer membrane (but not too much of the fruit), trim off the peel in strips, top to bottom.  When all the peel is removed, hold the orange over the mixing bowl (to catch dripping juice) and cut in toward the center of the fruit on either side of each membrane to remove the orange segments.  Once all segments have been removed, squeeze any remaining juice from the membranes into the bowl.)

Add celery, shallots, parsley, cranberries, vinegar, and oil to the bowl.  Fold in drained rice and lentils.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature.

This hash goes nicely with everything from salmon to steak.  I like to balance its smoky sweetness and vibrant colors with a side of lemony sauteed spinach.  The recipe makes a lot:  for a hearty breakfast,  reheat leftovers in a non-stick skillet or spread in a single layer on a sheet pan in a moderate oven, and serve with eggs or grapefruit and sliced avocado.

Sweet potato hash

Yield:  Makes about 8 c., serving at least 6

4 good-sized sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½” dice

6 oz. sliced bacon

Olive oil, as needed

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced

1 tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add diced sweet potatoes and cook until barely tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander, then return potatoes to pot to steam off excess moisture.

Brown bacon in a large, non-stick skillet (or, better yet, use a large pancake griddle, if you have one) over medium heat.  When crisp, remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  When cooled, crumble and set aside.

Pour off and reserve all but 2 tbsp. bacon fat from pan (or discard bacon fat and use olive oil instead).  Add half the potatoes and cook, undisturbed, until bottoms of potatoes are nicely browned, about 7 minutes.  Turn potatoes with a spatula, season generously with salt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are evenly browned and soft in the middle, 5-8 minutes more.  Remove potatoes to a large mixing bowl and lightly cover to keep warm.  Add 2 tbsp. reserved bacon fat or oil to skillet and cook remaining potatoes in the same manner. (If you have a large griddle, you can cook the potatoes in a single batch.)  Remove second batch to the mixing bowl.

Add 1 tbsp. bacon fat or oil to skillet, raise heat to medium-high, and cook pepper and scallions until just softened, about 2 minutes.  Return potatoes to pan and toss gently until hot throughout.  Stir in crumbled bacon, syrup, and vinegar, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.