Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Early Spring Harvest

Before the chives are tall enough, and the rhubarb is not yet peeking through, and the asparagus is still far underground; at a time when seed orders are being placed and this year’s garden is only in the thinking stage, fresh garden foods are out there for the picking. If you planned it right.
Tonight, for dinner we had cube steak. Although this was wonderful organic grass-fed beef it was far from the highlight of the dinner. The real stars were parsnip and rutabaga and salad- all of them fresh from the garden. And we haven’t even started gardening this year!
Over-wintered rutabaga
Fresh-from-the-garden lettuce and other salad greens are a priceless treat this time of year. Here's how we did it. Lettuce and claytonia were planted in the cold frames (see previous posts here, and here, and here, and here, and here) last fall. Though the greens did not grow during winter, the cold frames protected the young plants from freezing. The plants started growing by late February, and now, in late March, they are ready to harvest.
The flavor of parsnips is worth waiting for and is coming to be, for us, part of our celebration of spring’s arrival. We don’t even think of pulling even one of them in fall. Parsnips are for spring. And in spring, must be pulled up before they start growing again. If they are not, a hard core develops and then the plants go to seed. So you can’t leave them there and go do other things. They are spring food and are wonderful and you have to eat them.
If rutabaga is not pulled up in fall, after winter the parts above ground start to go to mush, and this rot will continue unless they are picked. So it is imperative to get at them as soon as the icy clutches of frost release them. Pick them with a paring knife in hand, and right there in the garden carve away the dirt-clotted roots and the top.
There’s still a bit of kale too, left over from all of our winter pickings. Kale can be picked right back to the stem, and then in spring, old stems will die out, and newer ones will sprout leaves. Kale is a fabulous plant and I’ll write about it in a future post.
Carrots also over-winter, with the help of some mulching. Sometimes we pick them all in fall, but other years we leave some in the ground. They become very sweet with the cold weather, and are a real treat in spring.
It’s hard to find a better storage system than the in-ground variety. It saves on picking, hauling,  canning, packing, or whatever is needed for indoor storage. There’s plenty to do in the fall and leaving some stuff in the dirt is the easy way to go. Tossing on some mulch is required for slightly less hardy plants (like carrots) to survive, but hardy ones need no special attention at all. Walk away. Let winter happen, and rejoin in spring.

There’s really a lot to be said for not pulling up everything in the fall. Over-wintered foods are a real treat in spring; the flavors have no comparison. In the interlude between finishing up stored foods and waiting for the later spring veggies, they don’t just fill in this space, but are a flavorful sign of spring and something to look forward to. -jmm

Roasted Parsnips and Garlic

Serves 2

Roasted parsnips are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Roasting is one way to prepare this wonderfully flavorful spring vegetable. Alternatives include cutting them into matchsticks and saute-ing in butter and olive oil, or boil and mash. Roasted, they are a fine, but tastier alternative to french fries.

6 large parsnips, or more if small
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole, and slightly crushed
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Tamari (soy sauce) to season (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
Scrub the parsnips using a vegetable brush. Trim off the top and the skinny root end. Slice lengthwise into quarters. Choose a baking dish that will accommodate the parsnips in one layer. If the parsnips are still wet, dry them using a clean, non-fuzzy dish towel.
Heap the parsnips and the garlic cloves in the baking dish, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss until they are coated with the oil, then arrange them in the pan with no overlapping. Sprinkle with pepper. 
Bake for 1/2 hour, stirring after 15 minutes. Parsnips will be be fork tender when done. If not done, bake another 5 minutes or so. Drizzle a little tamari over the parsnips and garlic, if desired. Serve. -G.H.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Imagining a Sustainable Lifestyle

John Lennon wondered if we could imagine not having possessions, existing simply as a brotherhood of humankind. This isn't a hope for a utopian future. Rather, it’s been done before. It’s in our history; the fabric of our genetic make-up.

Life as it was.
Early humans were hunters and gatherers. One can suppose that this lifestyle consisted of self sufficiency and oneness with nature. Theory has it that individual tribes were communities in which the needs of all members were attended to. When the hunters and gatherers returned with edibles, the tribe shared. There was no one percent and no ninety-nine percent. Everything was for the tribe, the one hundred percent.
What we gather from knowledge of American Indian, African tribes, and other primitive cultures is that our ancestors had a physical and spiritual relationship with the earth. A successful hunt resulted in celebratory rituals. Art and music were born of this harmony between man and nature. These people took from the earth what was needed and returned what what was not, making a cycle of events that was infinitely sustainable.
And then came the industrial age.
Industrialization changed everything. Industries became a driving force, resulting in urbanization, specialization, militarization, and accumulation of wealth for the individual. The earth became a source of raw materials to feed industry. Great tracts of land are laid waste in the process.
And now the resources are becoming more and more scarce. Although we may not immediately realize it, this is showing up in the headlines in today's news stories. Oil wells dug deep in the oceans, tar sands being mined, natural gas extraction by fracking, entire mountains removed to find coal. The problems resulting from these are reported; oil spills, ground water contamination, local reports of cancers, loss of landscape, loss of useable land, earthquakes. Not to mention climate change.
And here we are.
Our homesteading lifestyle, and that of a growing number of kindred spirits, is our small effort in helping to reverse a disastrous trend toward oblivion. We are doing what we can, like not accumulating things we don’t need, saving energy, using local sources such as obtaining eggs, meat, and produce from local farms. More about this in an earlier post: click here. We share vegetables from our garden with friends and co-workers, make an effort to be involved with the local community, and are involved with a local land trust in their efforts to preserve natural habitat.
When the age of industrialization wears itself out, a simpler, more natural kind of lifestyle will be called for. We feel that we are going in this direction, taking a step back to our origins that actually feels like a step forward. We are closer to the natural give and take of nature; it’s a simpler lifestyle and seems far away from that of accumulating and possessing things.
There are things that each and every one of us can do.
We can grow our own vegetables in back yards, pots on porches, or in community gardens, take a re-usable shopping bag to the market, tote a metal water bottle, use local recycling facilities, and so much more. And, as we redefine our own lives, we can remember to be involved in meaningful ways in our local communities. We are on this planet together. And yes, John Lennon, we can IMAGINE the world as a better place. And we can do more than imagine, we can live simply and sustainably now. -G.H., edited by jmm