Tea and Not Tea

I drink tea. Brewing a pot is the first thing I do most days and enjoying it while I catch up on my reading is a morning ritual I’m loath to give up. I made the switch from coffee a number of years ago, and while I still enjoy the occasional cup of joe, it’s tea I more often turn to when the situation calls for a stimulating hot beverage. We’re lucky to have a great tea purveyor in town who operated a lounge where I would go and write on my days off. It closed to the dismay of many, but they have re-emerged in another location as a tea bar so I can restock easily whenever my supply of favorite leaves gets low. Having such easy access to great tea and the good advice of a knowledgeable vendor let me become a tea snob. Specifically, if it wasn’t the leaves of Camellia sinensis, it wasn’t tea. And, to be fair, that’s strictly accurate. True tea only comes from this one shrub and any of the so-called teas that don’t contain it are more properly called tisanes. (See how I get!)

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I was a little leery, then, when a couple of our very best friends gifted us with a tin of “herbal tea” last year. They volunteer at the Enfield Shaker Museum where the gift shop sells blends of herbs from the gardens of the historic village. I put the tin on the shelf with the real tea and didn’t give it much thought until one chilly winter afternoon. I wanted something hot but thought it was a little late in the day for caffeine. I brewed a pot, poured a cup, and immediately changed my opinion of tisanes. It was delicious! Our supply was gone in  a few short weeks. I made a note of the ingredients and made sure they were included in the herb patch on this year’s garden plan. Some mints I was already growing but I bought another, labeled peppermint to make sure I had the right one. Lemon balm I had grown unrestrained before so I knew I had to keep it in a buried pot. Lemon verbena was a new one to me but we managed to find a plant at the nursery.

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All have grown well and I’ve made two harvests of their fragrant leaves. I dried and crushed the first batch and it made a nice little jar full but I’m stocking up with more to get me through the year.

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This whole adventure has loosened up my attitude about what I brew now. I’ve even started experimenting with adding dehydrated orange peel to my tea. Turns out it’s great with black tea, not so much with the whites. In any case, I know I’ve just scratched the surface of what I can grow for brewing tisanes and tea blends. Maybe this winter I’ll do some more reading and tasting and what I learn will be reflected in 2017’s herb bed. What do you brew? Please share any suggestions in the comments!

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Garden Update Mid-May

I made a quick visit to the garden the other day so I thought I’d do a quick update to share what’s going on. The short version is: not much. The weather has been on the cool side so the things I have planted or transplanted are poking along and other things, like beans, that I would have pushed other years haven’t even gone in yet.

Broccoli

The broccoli is looking great. Cold doesn’t phase it. I’ve been really happy with this particular hybrid, Belstar.

Brussels Sprouts

The same can be said for the Brussels sprouts. I didn’t start seeds for the sprouts this year but instead bought a four pack at the farmers market. I planted all four for insurance since last year neither of the two plants I put in made it to harvest.

Cauliflower

This blurry leaf is cauliflower. I hadn’t planned on growing it but picked up a packet of seeds at the seed fair on a whim. I figured since I had such great luck with the broccoli last year I’d try something similar.

Chard

The first chard is poking up. I planted about a dozen seeds with the plan to thin them back to a couple of the colors I like. We don’t eat enough of it to give over much space but it’s nice to have some available and it just keeps producing.

Garlic

Garlic is, of course, looking awesome having been growing for over six months already. I came upon a strange thing this spring. There were a few tiny garlic plants growing in a line in one of the paths, at least I think they’re garlic. Can’t think of how they could have gotten there since I harvested whole, undamaged bulbs from the adjacent bed and I snapped off all the scapes so none of the plants went to seed, a rare thing for garlic to do anyway. I’ve moved them to a bed to grow on and see what happens.

Onions

The onion plants are starting to show new growth so I’m assuming they’ve got some new roots put down. I quit growing onions from seed a couple years ago because the way I was doing it took up so much space in my seed-starting area of the basement. I’d rather use it for other crops. An allium I don’t have a  picture of are the leeks. Despite starting them very early they go into the garden the size of hairs instead of pencils like everything I read says they should be. In spite of that, they always end up growing huge.

Lettuce

In the leafy plants department, lettuces are coming along nicely.

Covered Lettuce

The lettuces I started in the basement and then transplanted had to be covered because something was grazing on them. The peas, too. I hope it doesn’t find the lettuce seedlings coming up in the other bed. My guess is it was turkeys or rabbits.

Cilantro2

The first cilantro is starting to show and looking good.

Parsley

Not so with the parsley transplants. I think I set them out too early. Must make a note on my planting schedule. They all three are still alive but looking rather yellow.

Spinach

Spinach is always carefree. Looking good so far.

Rutabaga

The rutabagas (I think this is them) are looking a little beat. My guess is flea beetles. They’re such a problem in the spring I don’t even try to grow some things like arugula until fall.

Radish

The radishes are even worse. I don’t really care because they’re something I can take or leave and the seeds were free. Radishes are supposed to be easy but I rarely have success with them.

Endive

Here’s something I’m giving a try again this year, never having succeeded in the past. It’s endive. I’m planning to grow it up, store the roots and force chicons this fall/winter.

Herbs

In the end of the herb bed the old mint on the left is doing fine and the new one I bought so I’d be sure to have spearmint on the right is doing even better. Between them, the chives I moved for the third time in as many years hasn’t missed a beat. I will be grabbing some of those flowers to put on salads this week.

Cal Poppies

Next to the herbs, on either side of the entrance, I’ve sown California poppies, another free packet of seeds grabbed on a whim. Clearly I’m going to need to thin these as they get bigger. This year I’m doing different flowers from different sources to try to break my calendula and marigold monotony. In fact, right now the most weeding I need to get on top of is removing the calendula seedlings that have sprung up so thickly in some areas.

That’s it for most of what’s in at the moment. I’m preparing the spaces for tomatoes and peppers but I haven’t even started hardening them off, having taken a much-needed vacation out of town. With any luck the weather will start to warm now.  I’ll just keep reminding myself that everything will happen in time and fit in between all the other things.

First Green Spring Salad

I’m trying to learn a little Spanish to make our expeditions to Latin America more fun and in the process I learned that the Spanish word for spring, the season, is primavera which literally means “first green.” So appropriate. I had my first green salad from the garden the other day and it was so satisfying.

I went to the fridge with the intention of using up the last of the salad mix we’d purchased at the farmers market a while back (a while back) and found it was past its best-by date, to put it delicately. Fortunately, the rain that we’ve been having off and on had broken for a change and the sun was out so I went up to the garden to see if I could find something to put in a salad.

Butterhead

Yay! Green! This is the baby butterhead lettuce, which I like to call Baby Butthead.  I had sown it rather thickly so I took the opportunity to take out a few whole plants. I want some to get big enough to make some wraps.

Black Dinosaur Kale

Black kale. This stuff looked so dark and beautiful against the…

Oakleaf

Green Oakleaf lettuce.

Red Russian Kale

There’s also red Russian kale. You may have noticed the flea beetle damage on the kales. This is nothing compared to what they do to arugula. I think they’re past the stage of being really vulnerable and a few holes don’t bother me. I just make sure to rinse well.

Spinach

There was also plenty of spinach. I picked baby leaves and the larger ones from the plants I overwintered. You can see the volunteer dill that has sprung up in the spinach bed. I picked a bunch of that to mix in, too. I’ve discovered how adding a pinch of a fresh herb really brightens up a salad.

I picked and picked into the little bucket I had brought, gently snugging the leaves down as I went. When I got home I started unpacking and washing it all and discovered I’d harvested way more than I thought. I did three salad spinner loads of mixed greens and three of the spinach! So far I’ve had two, very good and fresh big salads and soba noodles with steamed spinach. I’ve got enough for at least one more big salad, several sandwich toppings and I think tonight’s dinner will be a spinach frittata. The leafy goodness is here and I’m going to chow it down every chance I get!

What’s coming out of your garden and into your salad bowl that you’re excited about this season?

French Sorrel

One of the interesting phenomena of being able to tend the same kitchen garden year to year is the way the so-called garden seasons can overlap. Garlic planted in the fall emerges in the spring. Biennial crops can be overwintered in the ground, root cellar or crisper drawer to be replanted for seed production. Perennial herbs and fruits return–hopefully–like reliable friends every year.

 

It’s that last category I used in my first fresh-harvested dish of the season. When I inspected the garden recently one of the emerging signs of life was the French sorrel plant. It’s an herb I tried last year for the first time, not really knowing it was perennial. Since I was anxious to say "I cooked something from this year’s garden!" I grabbed a couple leaves a week later and sliced them up.

 

 

Tasting them it was evident the fully flavor hadn’t developed yet. There was a faint hint of lemon and sourness but mostly it just tasted green. I went ahead and scrambled the leaves into some eggs with a little butter. In the end, it wasn’t offensive by any means, but I don’t think it added a whole lot either. In any case, I got my first meal featuring this year’s produce.

 

 

Now I’m curious about other uses of French sorrel. It’s a productive plant so when I read the traditional recipes for soup or salmon with sorrel sauce I don’t balk at the amount they call for. I wonder if two of my favorite g0-t0 dishes for green leaves could be adapted to accommodate it, saag and pesto. Do you cook with French sorrel? What are your favorite dishes? Please share in the comments if you have a delicious, brilliant idea.

 

Today’s leafy, spring-green post is part of Post Produce hosted by Daniel Gasteiger over at Your Small Kitchen Garden. Check it out!