Grow Local: Pick a Pepper

September 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Oof — last week was full of, well, for lack of a better way to summarize: fixin’ stuff. The warranties on the car, household items, and yes, yours truly, are wearing thin. Mechanics, plumbers, and physical therapists are my new BFFs. That’s why, when the weekend finally arrived, I was looking forward to doing whatever was low-key and relaxing.

And yet, the plethora of peppers from my garden were calling me.

Passel of peppers: ancho chiles, jalapenos, and sweet red bells

Ancho chiles, sweet red bells, and two kinds of jalapeños

They’ve been in cold-storage limbo for the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been trying to find some time to preserve those beauties so that I can enjoy them for a few more months. Finally, with a little free time on my hands this past weekend, I got to it. What better way to get a big sense of accomplishment with small effort than to fire up the grill and roast an assortment of Anchos, sweet reds, and jalapeños!

Roasting the peppers really brings out their flavor and sweetness, and it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. As with slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers complement a wide variety of savory dishes. Some of the ways in which I use roasted peppers:

  • Add chopped, roasted sweet red peppers to salads (delish on a Niçoise!)
  • Make a quick pasta with strips of roasted anchos, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and olive oil
  • Spice up scrambled eggs with roasted jalapeños
  • Stuff roasted, peeled Anchos (or poblanos) to make chiles rellenos

Once you’ve roasted and peeled the peppers, you can store them in the refrigerator for about five days, or in the freezer for up to a year.

So, if you’ve got a passel of peppers, and you’ve been wondering how to preserve them, get ready to fire up the grill.

Technique: Roasted Peppers

Below I describe how to roast peppers on an outdoor grill, however, you can also get the same results by roasting peppers over an indoor gas cooktop. (Be sure to place a metal rack over the burner to prevent the peppers from falling into the flame.) Be forewarned: if you decide to roast your peppers indoors, you must have a powerful range hood/fan to suck up the roasty smell and any smoke. Also, peppers can give off sparks or catch fire if you get them too close to the flame, so be careful! If you’re roasting more than a couple of peppers, an outdoor grill is a better solution — faster, safer, and less cleanup.


Outdoor grill
Long-handled tongs
Brown paper bags (I used lunch bags, aka brown sandwich bags)
Large colander or medium sheet pan


Ripe peppers

How To:

  1. Heat your grill to about 450 – 500ºF.
  2. Arrange peppers on the grill and turn the heat down a bit.
    Place smaller peppers, such as jalapeños, across the grill’s grating so that they don’t fall through (they’ll soften as they start to cook).

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    The heat from the grill will roast the pepper, charring and blistering the skin. Timing will vary depending on how well your grill holds heat, outdoor temperature, and the type of pepper. Anchos and jalapeños don’t take as long to roast as the thicker red bells.

  3. Every five minutes or so, use the tongs to pick up your peppers and check their undersides for blistering and charing.
    Once the side touching the grill has blistered and charred, turn the pepper. You’ll need to keep roasting and turning the peppers every five minutes or so.

    These guys are just getting started!

    These guys are just getting started!

    Repeat until each pepper’s skin is blistered and charred all the way around. You don’t want to burn the peppers, but you want to cook them enough to give them a roasty flavor and easily remove their skins later, when they’re cool.

  4. Once the peppers are roasted all the way around, they’ll start to deflate or flatten out. Using the tongs, remove them from the heat, and put them in a paper bag, then close the top of the bag.
    It's in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    It’s in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    I put two large peppers and several jalapenos in each bag. The heat and moisture of the peppers creates a steam-room effect, making it easier to remove the skins from the peppers once they’re cool.

  5. Place the bags of peppers in a colander or on a sheet pan and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature in your kitchen.
  6. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove them from the paper bag and peel away their skins.
    The easiest way to start peeling is to find a split or blistered spot on the pepper and slowly pull the skin away from the pepper (it’s kind of like pulling the film off the screen of a mobile phone).
    As always, I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers, such as jalapeños. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, any utensils you used when peeling spicy peppers. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling — wash your hands first! Better safe than sorry.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapenos, "purple" jalapenos (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapeños, “purple” jalapeños on the left (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

  7. Stored peeled peppers in container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
    You can layer peppers in a single container, placing parchment in between the layers.
  8. To freeze, place a single layer of peppers in a plastic freezer bag, squeeze out all of the air and place either in a freezer-safe container or directly in the freezer.
    Be sure to label your bag or container with the contents and date.

There are other ways to preserve peppers, including drying and smoking. I haven’t attempted smoking yet, but it’s next on my list for the jalapeños! Aside from roasting my Ancho peppers, I’ve also dried a few to use this winter. Simple sun drying on my kitchen window sill takes about three weeks, and then I store the peppers in a plastic bag.

Ancho chiles: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

Ancho chiles from L to R: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

How are you preserving peppers? Have you tried roasting your own yet?

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Trois

August 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

Time for the monthly update on my little back yard garden! As we’re coming into August, nightshades are just about ready for harvest, the sage has taken over the herb box, and I have a garden thief!

Nightshades keep on growin'

Nightshades keep on growin’

First up: that garden thief. Or maybe I should say garden thieves. It all started with chewed-up chives a few weeks ago, and was followed by half-eaten tomatoes, and more recently: brand-new baby lettuce plants chewed down to the roots!

Chewed lettuce plants

These were baby lettuce plants. Someone’s been snacking in my garden!

After mentioning the chive thievery during my recent chat with Webb Ranch farmer Deano Lovecchio, I learned that cats like chives — and it’s likely that one of my neighbors’ cats was probably helping itself to my garden. (And I love cats, but DAMN!)

As for the tomatoes and lettuce, I suspect the squirrels. More than once I was excited to pick a pretty, just-ripe tomato from the bush, only to find that, while the front was gorgeous, the back half was gone. So disappointing! What this all means is that between now and next month’s update, I will be getting a pellet gun learning how to install a fence around my garden. (Good thing I’m a DIY kinda girl!) Stay tuned… In the meantime, here’s the rest of the update.

Purple Jalapeños Peppers
This plant has been the star of my garden since Day 1; it’s been flowering regularly, and the peppers are sturdy and ripening on schedule.

Purple jalapenos

Love my purple jalapenos!

If you read the post on Spicy Cucumber Margaritas, then you know that these peppers turn red when mature. The mature peppers have a milder jalapeno heat, combined with a touch of red bell-pepper sweetness. To date I’ve only harvested two mature peppers, which I used to make pepper-infused tequila last month for said margaritas. If you’re looking to upgrade your margarita or tequila-drinking experience, give the recipe a try!

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

Just this week, half a dozen peppers on the lower half of the plant are starting to change color from black-purple to dark scarlet-red. Because the color is so dark, even through half of the transition, it’s hard to tell that the peppers are maturing until there’s a sudden pop of red amongst the green and purple.

Green Jalapeños
Last month I wrote that “the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well” and “[h]opefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.” Well, guess what? Yes, I can! During the past four weeks, this plant has gone gangbusters with fruit!

Green jalapenos!

Green jalapenos!

A major flowering happened at the beginning of July, and yet lots of blossoms dropped, so I wasn’t sure I’d end up with more than a couple of peppers this summer. My, how things have changed. The plant is just full of big, beautiful peppers, that range from 3 – 4 inches long. While the peppers aren’t quite ready for harvest yet, I see a lot of salsas (and maybe another bottle of pepper-infused tequila) in my future!

Ancho Chile Peppers
My other rock star pepper plant! These babies  are large (6 – 8 inches long), shiny green, and bee-yoo-tee-ful! As they’ve matured, they’ve grown longer, and the color has gone from a darker to a lighter green.

Large ancho chiles

Hellooooo, chile rellenos!

While many of the blossoms from the last flowering didn’t stick around, the peppers that were already on the plant are fast reaching maturity. I think our random weather — which has ranged from sunny, 90+-degrees to cloudy, 70-something days has delayed the maturity date.

The first two peppers, which started growing back in May, reached maturity, and then started to turn red before I could harvest them. I decided to go ahead and let them turn completely red by leaving them on a sunny windowsill. Eh, I have a few to spare, so let’s see what happens! Yep, I’m “making” dried ancho chiles!

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

I could string them up, but they get the most sun right on the windowsill. I turn them daily so that the drying process is pretty even.

Sweet Red Peppers
I don’t know what to make the red bell pepper plant. While it really started to flower and produce fruit once I ran a couple of drip lines to it during the first week of July, the growth has been minimal in the past month. In fact, I’m not sure it’s grown at all — unlike the hotter pepper plants, which are about four feet tall. The fruit on this plant is starting to ripen — especially the first (and largest pepper) — but some of the others are looking a bit anemic.

One pepper starting to mature

One pepper starting to mature

I suspect that this plant needs consistent hot and sunny weather to thrive. With the long maturity time (90 days or so), it looks like a small harvest this year.

Indigo Apple Tomatoes
Despite the loss of my first few ripe tomatoes to the local wildlife (ugh, suburban squirrels… so spoiled!), the plant is doing well. I think.

Indigo Apple tomatoes

Indigo Apple tomatoes

Some of the leaves are yellowing and drying out, which probably means that I need to adjust the watering plan, but the plant continues to flower and new baby tomatoes are popping up every day. Not only do the ripe tomatoes look cool, but they are delish, by the way — sweet with lots of flavor and low acidity. What I love is that the indigo/purple top doesn’t change color — just the lower half of the fruit, which does turn red when ripe.

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem and the purple to red coloring

Lettuces have turned out to be more challenging that I anticipated, mostly due to our weather. The Black-Seeded Simpson went the way of the Little Gems, bolting just a couple of weeks after I planted them. Sure, lettuces are easy to grow and don’t require much more than sun, water, and good soil, but randomly throw in a week or two of 90+-degree temperatures, and they will throw up a stalk and get all bitter in protest!

Fortunately, with 30 – 40 days to maturity, and a long growing season, I can keep trying! This month’s attempt is “Cardinale,” a sweet, mild lettuce that has medium green leaves with a tinge of red.

Baby 'Cardinale' lettuce plant

Baby ‘Cardinale’ lettuce plant, with Lettuce Manoa in the background

Apparently it’s popular with cats… or squirrels… or cats and squirrels. (Again, arrgghhh!) The Lettuce Manoa, which I planted last month, has gotten a little crispy around the edges, but is fighting the good fight, so we’ll see how it’s doing next month.

Not much has changed with the herbs in the past four weeks. They’re continuing to grow, seemingly unaffected by the random weather changes. I’m overdue to harvest and start preserving them for the cooler months, although I’m trying to keep the mint population under control by making mojitos regularly. It’s a tough job, but I’m commited to reducing food waste ;-).

Mojitos, anyone?!

Mojitos, anyone?! Or maybe I should say “Mojitos for everyone!”

Sage is the big winner in the herb box this month, which is to say that I have a crapload of sage  — more than I know what to do with at this point. If you have ideas for preserving sage or recipes or, well, anything, please share!

So. Much. Sage.

So. Much. Sage.

Last but not least, the residents of the northeast corner of my yard are a lot happier since I installed drip lines there. Lemon verbena and lavender, which I’ve been harvesting for flavored simple syrups and my baby lime bush are all thriving! I don’t expect to see any limes until next year, but you never know.

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

That’s what I’ve got growing! What’s happening in your garden?

Cooking from the Garden: Get Stuffed

July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

Recently, while I was sitting in my home office putting together a post for this blog, I heard my elderly neighbor — the one with the tomatoes — yelling my name as he came across my driveway to the back door. He’d come over to give me a “zucchini” from his garden. Now that both of our gardens are blooming, we’ve started trading. (I’d just traded his daughter a bunch of sage and an over-sized jalapeño pepper for a handful of fresh tomatoes. Talk about “shop local!”)

This zucchini was like none I’d seen before: it was the size of a cantaloupe and about two pounds in weight. Thanks to my cucurbit education at CUESA’s Summer Celebration, I figured out that what he’d given me was a Ronde de Nice, or globe squash (still… it’s a big, round zucchini). I don’t eat much summer squash, so what to do with it was an immediate headscratcher.  I thanked him, turned it over a few times feeling the weight, and then put it in my refrigerator until I could figure it out.

Inside view of refrigerator

See that green pumpkin-looking thing on the top shelf? That’s my Ronde de Nice!

When his daughter stopped by a few days later, she was excitedly curious about “the zucchini” — had I cooked it yet?! I had to admit — reluctantly — that I hadn’t, and that I was a little stymied as to how to prepare it. Truthfully, I still had no idea what to do with this thing, so I was, well, avoiding it. Stuffing and baking it seemed like the obvious choice (and she agreed), but the ground beef and cheese version she’d recently made for dinner with her father just didn’t fit my more plant-based diet, which meant that I’d have to come up with a recipe. Cue the interweb searches.

So, the big, round zucchini sat in my refrigerator — at eye level — for almost two weeks. I moved it from the top shelf to the middle, and then back again as I cooked my way through the rest of the produce. (Ugh. I know!) It was a thoughtful gift, and I was running the risk of letting it go the way of so many lost zucchini before it. Sad but true: every once in a while I forget about my hit-or-miss relationship with zucchini, buy some, and then struggle to use it all before it goes slimy. (Yep, eww.)

Finally, as I was contemplating dinner this past weekend, I decided it was time to deal with the big, round zucchini. What was the right way to stuff and cook this thing? I’d have to experiment. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to use up some leftovers! I had roasted vegetables, brown rice, half an heirloom tomato, some feta — I could come up with something tasty and do it without much prep work. Suddenly this thing I’d been fretting over became a fun dinner project! Cue the aperitif.

I cut the top from the Ronde de Nice and scooped out the interior flesh and seeds. Eek. This thing could feed a family of four. Hmm, the filling I’d planned wouldn’t be quite enough for this cavernous cucurbit. Crap. I’d have to come up with more ingredients for the filling, so I started scavenging the refrigerator.

Ronde de nice squash scraped clean... and not quite enough filling

Ronde de Nice squash scraped clean… and not quite enough filling

Fortunately, I’d had a new CSA box delivery two days beforehand, not to mention a few lingering items from the previous CSA box. (Still working on reducing food waste at home!) The beet greens from the previous CSA box were still good, as was the last of the green garlic. Problem solved: sautéed beet greens with garlic and spicy red pepper would round out the filling. I could also finely chop the Ronde de Nice’s cap and add some squash to my er, squash.

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

For additional texture I threw in some pepitas, and for a bit of creaminess and flavor, I added some olive oil and locally made feta. In the end, I needed about three cups of filling to pack out this baby! When all was said and done, most of the work was chopping and mixing. The only “cooking” I did was sautéing the greens with garlic and red pepper, and that took about seven minutes. The whole thing couldn’t have been easier. Yeah, who knew?

650 Ronde de nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

650 Ronde de Nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

Here’s my version of Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash — a nod to Bastille Day and #MeatlessMonday. Feel free to substitute your own leftover grains, vegetables, and cheeses.

Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
Yield: Serves 2 as a main course; serves 4 as a side dish


Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash (below)
2-pound Ronde de Nice squash (or two 1-pound squashes)

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF and lightly oil a deep baking dish or roasting pan.
  2. Cut the top from the squash.
  3. Using a dessert spoon, scrape the flesh and seeds from inside the squash, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick “shell.”
    Discard the seeds and reserve any remaining flesh for future use.
  4. Cut some of the cap into 1/4″ pieces for the filling (about 1/3 cup total).
  5. Make the filling (recipe below).
  6. Use a towel or paper towel to blot any moisture from inside the squash.
  7. Stuff squash with filling, slightly mounding the filling at the opening.
    If using two smaller squashes, divide filling evenly between the two.
    Save any leftover filling for other uses (side dish, salad, topping for vegetarian nachos).
  8. Place stuffed squash in the prepared baking dish and cover with foil.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes longer until squash is al dente or slightly soft, depending on your preference.

Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
If using a 2-pound squash, you’ll need about 3 cups of filling. Feel free to increase or decrease amounts or substitute ingredients, depending on your taste.


2/3 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup chopped roasted carrots and onions (¼” pieces)
1/2 cup chopped tomato (¼” pieces)
3/4 cup cooked corn
1/3 cup chopped squash from the cap or flesh
1/2 bunch greens (kale, beet, radish), sautéed with garlic and crushed red pepper
1½ tablespoons toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped or snipped into ¼” pieces
½ – 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

How to:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
  2. Add to prepared squash as described above.


Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Deux

July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

Time for the monthly progress report on my little edible garden! (Actually this post should have appeared last week, but the 4th of July holiday delayed things a bit.) We’re about 9 weeks along at this point, for those of you playing the home game. Lots of sunshine and more than a few hot days in June really got the tomatoes and peppers going, but put an end the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix lettuces. Herbs — both sweet and savory — are thriving, which means it’s time for harvest! Read on for more details and photos.

First up, the peppers and tomato plant are definitely rockin’ — check out this photo:

Pepper and tomato plants

L to R: Purple jalapeño peppers, Indigo Apple tomatoes, green jalapeño peppers, and ancho chili peppers

Remember, these babies were about 4 inches tall when they went into the planting boxes. Today, they range from 30-48″ tall, with no signs of slowing down.

Purple Jalapeño Peppers
Honestly,  I bought this plant for the novelty, figuring if it grew, “fine.” If not, oh well. What a wonderful surprise it’s turned out to be! Healthy and hearty since planting, it’s now about 30 inches tall. The delicate purple flowers are so lovely, and the resulting black-purple fruit is really striking against the green foliage.

Flower on purple jalapeno plant

Flowers on my purple jalapeño plant

Purple jalapeño plant with unripe peppers

Purple jalapeños and a few that have turned red

A few of the older peppers have matured during the past week, transitioning through a range of intense colors from black-purple to purple-red to magenta, and finally to a deep scarlet. (The fruit actually starts out green with purple shading when small, and then turns completely dark purple as it grows.) I’m thinking about using them for an infused tequila or syrup for cocktails. Gotta plan ahead: National Tequila Day is coming up on July 24!

Purple jalapeños, red at maturity

Mature red jalapeno in the foreground; deep-purple peppers will be ready in a few weeks

Green Jalapeños
Unfortunately, the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well. The plant is growing and spreading — it’s now about 36″ tall — but during the first and second flowerings, most of the blossoms died off. There are a couple of 3-inch peppers near the base of the plant from the first flowering, which are probably ready for harvest. Otherwise, I’ve seen some new baby-thumb-sized green nubbins appearing in the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much to photograph. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.

Ancho Chili Peppers
Like the purple jalapeños, the anchos are going gangbusters! This baby really blossoms in heat — literally. After the first round of hot days in early June, the plant was full of creamy white blossoms, and most of those have turned into peppers! I lost one pepper to a bit of mold/rot, but the rest are a luscious, shiny green. The peppers on the lower part of the plant are from the first flowering, and should be ready for harvest later this month. I’m looking forward to an August filled with chiles rellenos!

Ancho pepper plant with half a dozen or so peppers

Ancho peppers

Sweet Red Peppers
This plant has been slow to start, and like the ancho, really thrives in the hotter temperatures. Oddly enough, the plant itself hasn’t grown much; it’s only about 18 inches tall. Right now it’s filled to capacity with peppers that have just blown up in the past two weeks. With a long maturity time (90 days), I don’t expect to see any red peppers until late August.

Nope, those aren't green bell peppers -- they're unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Nope, those aren’t green bell peppers — they’re unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Tomato plants can be touchy — my neighbor has already lost a couple this year, despite all of his experience and attention. Fortunately, my friend Jill had some helpful advice that I took to heart for my Indigo Apple plant: lots of water and remember to fertilize. The tallest and widest of my nightshades, that little 4-inch start is now about 4 feet tall!

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Like the purple jalapeño, the Indigo Apple tomato starts out green, turns purple (more violet than indigo so far), then red at maturity. Maturity is about 75 days, so the fruit from the first flowering should be ready in August — maybe the end of July, if we have another round of hot days.

Closeup of unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Oh, my poor lettuces! Unfortunately, I let the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix stay in the ground too long, and they bolted during the 90-degree days. What’s “bolting”? It’s when the lettuce throws up center stalk, preparing to go to seed. It’s the lettuce’s way of saying: I’m done, outtie, see ya. The leaves become bitter, and all you can do is pull the head and replant.

It was a newbie mistake not to harvest entire heads sooner, but the great thing about lettuce is that the maturity is only about 28 days, so there’s plenty of time for a do-over. I planted three new varieties a couple of weeks ago.

New baby lettuces

New baby lettuces: Black Seeded Simpson, Lettuce Manoa, and Wildfire Mix

I’m planning to try an early harvest this time around, taking more baby leaves than I did with the Little Gems.

Closeup of new baby lettuces

Closeup of Lettuce Manoa (left) and  Wildfire Mix

The herbs are doing really well, but admittedly, they’re low maintenance. Water, sunshine, the occasional cutting, and they’re good. The spearmint and lemon verbena are flowering, which means that it’s time to cut some back so that I can get another harvest or two this season. It’s also time to start planning for preserving them for use in the fall and winter.


Spearmint, starting to flower

The flowers are pretty, but it’s time for harvest. (Hello, mojitos. How you doin’?)


Peppermint, overflowing the container

Hmmm, might be time to make mint-chocolate ganache…



The sage has reached critical mass; time to harvest and preserve



Chives: my go-to herb. They’re going into every savory dish I make.


Flowering lavender

Flowering lavender: so pretty, and it’s bringing pollinators to my yard!

Lemon Verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

So, that’s the latest here in the 650! How is your garden growing? Are you preserving yet, or just enjoying the experience of eating garden-to-table?

Want to see how my garden has grown up? Flash back to the post in which I commit to creating my own edible garden and get all the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. Follow the progress of the first month and find out how my 4-inch plant starts fared — plant porn included, of course.

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.

Burgundy mix and little gem lettuces

Lettuce explosion: burgundy mix in the front, little gems behind

As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!

Left to right: Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno

Awww, they were just babies then…

Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)

Herb box: Sage and chives

Sage and chives, little gems to the right

The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).

Tomato plant

Tomato plant

You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.

So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:

Eat local: West coast halibut with Nut 'n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots and Marin feta.

Eat local: West-coast halibut with Nut ‘n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese and chives from my garden. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots, and feta.

The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!

Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.

The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?




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