final fruits

tomatillos

Since the weather has gotten cold I’ve pretty much given up on my remaining outdoor vegetables. The tomato vines have wilted, I pulled out the runner beans, and the last few zucchini are melting into the ground. The tomatillo plants continued to fruit despite everything, although I was feeling a bit burned out on actually eating them. I decided to pick all the remaining fruits a few weeks ago and keep them in a bowl on the counter, just for decor. I adore the texture of these tomatillos, and the mix of jewel tones as some turn purple and others remain brilliant green.

Yesterday I finally threw them into the compost, but took one last picture in the soft afternoon light. I had just finished weaving a teal wool scarf for the upcoming Rexville art show, so I used that as a color backdrop for the tomatillos. I like the resulting contrast.

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growing herbs

rosemary and friends

I will always make room in my garden for herbs.

Also garlic, and spring bulbs, and maple trees, and iris (my garden is pretty full of stuff)…but if I could only grow a few plants, they would almost certainly be herbs. Pretty, hardy, easy to grow, and edible – what more could you ask from a plant? Not to mention how much a pack of fresh herbs costs at the grocery store. It’s cheaper to grow them yourself, and you know they’re fresh when you picked out of the back garden just a few minutes before dinner.

Here’s what’s currently growing in my garden:

sage

sage

I’ve always grown sage. My main sage bush came from a clump in my mother’s garden in Eastern Washington, unceremoniously dug out with a shovel and plopped into my first real garden over ten years ago. It gets straggly, but I simply cut it back hard and back it comes. I have several more sage plants, including a culinary sage in a pot on the deck, a large leaf sage mostly for ornament in the front yard, and a few purple sages for color. I hardly ever have dried sage on hand in the kitchen, because I can always go outside and pick some fresh, even in the snow.

new bay leaves

I was so thrilled when I realized the Western Washington climate allowed me to grow bay laurel. I’m not sure I’d ever had sweet bay before, just the slightly toxic and harsh California bay sold in grocery stores. I adore fresh bay leaves, and use them in soups, braises, curries and roasts. A leaf in a simmering bechamel sauce gives it a great earthy scent. Going out to the patio in my bathrobe to pick a few leaves is a wonderful thing. My tree was enormous a few years ago, pushing up through the decking, but then a hard winter took it down and it’s currently reinventing itself with a forest of suckers. Sometimes when it needs pruning I’ll take a branch inside, so I’ll have dry leaves for blending into curry powders and sausage.

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spring feeling

flower girlSpring Feeling cocktail

Spring has officially sprung! We’ve had some frost on the ground this past week (a rarity this winter), but the days have been mostly sunny and the breezes blow eddies of cherry petals around the streets. Daffodils are in full bloom and the tulips are already beginning to blaze away in pots, borders and farm fields. My garden is beginning to come to life, which makes my fingers itch to get out and weed and plant and take pictures.

bleeding hearts

just opened

magnolia

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braised rhubarb with herbs and saffron

rhubarb

At this point in the season, the rhubarb plants have peaked, attempted to bloom their heads off (and been thwarted by my Felcos), and are beginning to settle back into merely being a large green presence in the yard without actually attempting to overrun or squash anything. We’ve had rhubarb crisp, clafoutis, pie, compote, and muffins, and stowed away a large freezer bag of chopped stalks for later.

fresh rhubarb

Despite all that, I’m nowhere near rhubarb burnout, and there are several recipes left that I want to try – for instance, I’ve still never roasted rhubarb. Or poached it in red wine. I have, however, braised it with green herbs, onion, tomato and saffron. Sound weird? It’s actually really, really good.

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in the garden: a new blog!

lilies

I have news!

As you may have noticed, ever since I started this blog, I’ve been amusing myself with a self-indulgent weekly Saturday post featuring something blooming in my garden. I have no idea if this has been interesting to any of my foodie readers, so I decided to do a little rearrangement.

Henceforth, Food on the Brain shall be food only. Those wishing for more of a garden photo fix, or just see what’s blooming here in Skagit Valley, may now repair to its sister site, Jessamyn’s Garden. I can definitely say that there will continue to be some crossover, since food and gardening are my passions and they keep leaking into each other, but it won’t be quite such a jumble. I’ll be moving all the old “in the garden” posts to the new site as I have time.

Please check out the new blog, and let me know how you like it!

Edited 8/4/08: I have moved all the old garden posts over, and deleted them from this site.

Edited 9/14/09: I started the new blog as The Weekend Gardener, but got tired of it and changed it to Jessamyn’s Garden as of today. Hopefully it’ll stay put now!

a new way to eat garlic

garlic scapes

I’ve been growing garlic for years – it’s one of the few vegetables that I consistently have in my garden, and I can usually grow enough that we only need to buy a few heads in the spring to tide us over. I used to grow softneck, but I discovered Rocambole hardneck garlic about 5 years ago and have grown it exclusively ever since – I think it has a better flavor, and it’s often much easier to peel.

One major difference between softneck and hardneck is that hardneck puts up flower stalks in the spring. If you leave them on, the flowers turn into little clusters of bulbils, taking energy from the main bulb, so it’s best to cut them off – I haven’t always been good about this, but I usually make it out there at some point, haphazardly whack off the flower scapes and compost them.

garlic scapes

But this year! This year I’ve been reading food blogs, and I’ve discovered something new. Turns out, if you pick the scape before it blooms and hardens, you can eat it! I have never seen this information in a cookbook, not even my Alice Waters book. Continue reading

spring break!

spring in the back yard

We are off to the Big Island of Hawaii today, to experience the delights of hot lava, sulfur gas and plate lunch! The garden and this blog will have to get by without me for the next week. As you can see, the garden’s doing pretty well on its own anyway (ignore the weeds), and I’ll have at least one post lined up so the place won’t be completely deserted. I won’t be around to respond to comments, though, unless I stumble across a computer along the way.

But with any luck, I’ll have some great material when I get back!

in the garden: rhubarb

the first rhubarb stalk

The rhubarb in the back yard is just beginning to sprout. It’s not any sort of fancy variety – in fact, it came with the house. But it’s vigorous and tasty, and we’re really looking forward to our first rhubarb pie.

The early stalks have a certain alien quality to them, like a gunnera or a tree fern. Who first thought that it might be edible?