Farming in My Flip Flops

File Apr 09, 8 29 12 AM

I’m sitting here at my kitchen window looking out over a soft light layer of snow, thinking. Mild annoyance would be the logical destination of those thoughts, as in, “aw sh#t…when is this nonsense going to stop.” That could be the script considering it is now April, tulips abound, and yesterday I was running around in my flip flops. And believe me, all those  things were in there, but that wasn’t the first stop on the thought train. My first thought upon looking out over this frosty tableau was…OH MY GOD!!!! MY BABIES!!!! – quickly followed by pulling on boots, (after glancing at my flip flops, a tiny tear running down my cheek), and running outside.

Hello, I’m the lunatic standing in nothing but a bathrobe and rubber boots on the front lawn…in the snow. At least I remembered to close the robe.

Yes, I’m a mother now to hundreds of tiny tender green shoots. City girl is making the leap of faith and fertilizer, to farmer. Or as I like to think of it, from Cooking in My Heels, to Farming in My Flip Flops.

This isn’t exactly my first foray into shoving seeds in dirt and watching the magic happen. But back then I was 5, the “garden” was a lima bean poked into a dirt-filled dixie cup, and there was no way in hell I was going to eat whatever happened after that. This is different. This is a big girl grown up garden, not just a few disposable-if-dead plants on the air conditioner in the sunny window facing W. 24th street.

I decided to make the leap of faith into a steady relationship with dirt over the past winter, when I desperately needed something to distract my mind to something to look forward to. What could be more anticipatory of reward (and/or frustration, mold, bugs, weeds, etc.) than a lovely garden. So about 4 weeks ago, I dug in. (You see what I just did there, right?)

Now some gardeners are a cross of landscape-architecty botanist-engineers, planning square footage, testing soil pH, examining phases of the moon and such, so that their fertile ground gets the most production per earthworm of healthy organic sustainable yield possible. I bought a cute pair of gardening gloves. I mean, I’m going to be taking pictures of this stuff and posting on instagram after all. I also picked up a few tools on sale, and big watering can, and a squishy purple mat which should protect my knees for about 20 minutes of weeding before I take a break.

New tools, gloves, and squishy purple thing in hand, I set out to prepare the soil for what would surely be the most successful, photogenic, and productive 8’x8′ plot of dirt in the lower 48.  After about an hour of turning 64 cubic feet of soil over on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon I discovered the BEST thing about gardening. Cold alcoholic beverages. And you thought I leapt into this without doing some studying first, didn’t you.

I’ve discovered a few things on the month-long journey since that first cold beer too. I think I’m a helicopter parent. I have quite literally been out to peer into my dirt void every single day since the first seeds went into the ground. I knew enough not to worry for the first week or two. I do have a degree in biology after all, and a vague memory of botany and that lima bean in the dixie cup. But once it got to week three, I began to wonder. Was it something I said? Did my little pre-shoot darlings know I was a life-long city kid, and who was I kidding? Were they just being stubborn? Then, it happened.

I was a mother!! I named her Peanelope. Then I discovered the second thing about gardening. It turns me into a lunatic. One of those odd people that cause you cross the street when you see them. I talk to my seedlings. I tell them they are cute. I tell them they will grow big and strong. I need to find a man…

Anyway, I’m now the proud parent of two rows of english peas, 4 rows of future spinach (that right now looks alarmingly like blades of grass), and two rows of radish seedlings that started nice and neat, and are now looking more like a radish mosh pit. I’ll keep you posted on the technicolor carrots if and when they show their shoots, (because why go with orange when you can have all those silly posh colors they charge extra for in Trader Joe’s.)

And this morning’s snow? Well, luckily my children are far smarter than me, and know that a surprise blanket of warm spring snow is nothing to be scared of. But tonight, they get tucked in, just in case… πŸ˜‰

goodbye heels, hello mini-greenhouse

Fennel Salad

So it turns out, not only am I a new mom to future vegetables of my own doing, I’m the adoptive parent of a rangy fennel plant. When I moved in last July, I noticed this lanky, nearly 7 foot tall delinquent in my side yard. One rub of the “flowers” let loose the familiar anise smell and I knew I was dealing with fennel, (one of my absolute favorite root veg.) Ten minutes of tugging the bamboo-like stalks with bupkis to show for it lead me to believe this was not going to yield much of anything for my kitchen. But…about 3 weeks ago, those beautiful frilly green shoots gave me new hope.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually get from this resilient baby once the bulbs underneath grow bigger, but the fronds themselves in this tender stage are sweet and absolutely delicious. So, I decided my first of hopefully many recipes involving the dirt candy of my 64 square feet of soil will be my go-to fennel salad.

This is less a recipe than a technique you can adapt to your taste of lemon/olive oil ratio. Raw fennel is commonly served in Italian and Sicilian homes as a digestive after a meal. I learned that from my favorite Sicilian-American the first time I stayed at his house on the Jersey Shore, long before I was the pioneer I’ve become in  recent years. Back then I decided rather than just pieces of raw fennel, I’d make a lemon vinaigrette and toss the thin slices of veg in. I’ve been making this salad ever since. It’s highly adaptable to change, like oranges or pink grapefruit sections and oil cured olives, substituting the appropriate juice of the appropriate fruit for the lemon. Serve after a great meal of pasta and Sunday gravy, or grilled whatever from the BBQ.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 fennel bulbs, stalks removed and tough outer layer removed or peeled down
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil (this is a good recipe to use the good stuff, since there are so few ingredients every one counts)
  • Flakey sea salt, such as Maldon
  • Freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, squeeze the lemon, add in a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and a little more olive oil as you have lemon juice. Whisk together until it emulsifies, or doesn’t separate. Taste and adjust for whatever is needed.

Cut the fennel bulb in half, and remove the triangular core (this is really too tough to eat). Slice each half into 1/4″ pieces, then cut up the pieces to bite-sized. Toss with the lemon vinaigrette. Taste, and adjust with more salt, pepper, lemon or oil, whatever floats your boat. If you are lucky enough to have those spring-fresh baby fronds, chop them up and toss with the fennel. And eat smugly, knowing you grew at least some of that deliciousness. πŸ™‚

There will be more Farming in My Flip Flops and the adventures of a city girl turned loopy helicopter parent gardener as long as the dirt is doing something interesting. In the meantime, if you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the β€˜like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! πŸ™‚

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