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Winter Planning

As the garden wound down for the winter, so did I. It appears I’ve left this blog hanging for a few months! Truth be told, I haven’t been up to much. No big home projects, not much garden planning for next season. I’ve been working a lot, and Autumn sped by with a flurry of birthdays and holidays and anniversaries. I’m not sure how a full year in this house went by so quickly! I did take on one big new project: cooking a weekly meal for some of my neighbors. I make extra portions of my Sunday night dinner and package it up, to be picked up on Monday. All the meals are vegan and gluten free, and it’s been a real challenge to come up with something new and exciting each week that is as seasonal and local as possible. I’ll probably do some more blog posts about it in the future.

Now it’s the end of January and truly time to hunker down and sort out my plan for next year’s garden. My mother bought me a book on permaculture three years ago, when I started my first (failed) vegetable garden. The book was interesting, but as I was renting at the time and very (very!) new to gardening, it was a bit over my head. I re-read the book last year when we moved into our house, but as permaculture is very big on tailoring your projects to the specific site, and I knew nothing about the land yet, the book was again a bit too much for me. Now we’ve lived here a full year and I read the book for the third time and things have started to click into place.

Last year, I focused on establishing large ornamental shrubs that would give some additional structure to the garden. I added hydrangea, lilac, butterfly bush, azalea, dogwood trees, and rhododendron. I also planted a lot of perennial flowers donated by my neighbors. Hopefully this year they will have all stayed happy, and I’ll have bursts of color and fragrance in all corners of the yard. This year, I want to focus on edibles. Specifically, perennial edibles. Last year I did plant two blueberry bushes (one died) and an elderberry. This year I’ll be adding asparagus, artichoke, and rhubarb. I’ll be planting a lot of herbs, as I am still inspired by our Longwood visit in September. I’ll also be adding lots more fruit– currants, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, and apple and pear trees. Finally, I will plant some vegetables- mostly ones that are either impossible to get in the stores/ at the CSA, or that I already have seeds for.

I’m not sure if I posted about my disastrous first vegetable garden, but now seems like an appropriate time to mention it.

We were renting a house on a 5 acre property. This garden was walled on two sides with the barn on the third, and the driveway on the fourth. We were surrounded by woods, so there were a lot of deer, but I thought because this area was walled and close to the house, they wouldn’t come in. There was an old bed (on the left there) that had been used by our landlord’s father for propagating new plants. We built two more raised beds. I was very enthusiastic and said I’d grow all our vegetables for the summer! Unfortunately, groundhogs discovered the plot, and ate everything down to the ground. Additionally, I had put in raised beds in a giant weed patch and did nothing to suppress those weeds. I was weeding constantly and couldn’t stay on top of anything. The only plants that did okay were the tomatoes. At the end of the season, I was discouraged. What’s the point, if everything is either eaten by animals or insects, or strangled by weeds? It was too much for me. I couldn’t keep up and I was over my head.

When we moved to our current house, I decided that I didn’t want to do vegetables ever again. I joined a local CSA and got amazing produce all throughout the spring and summer last year. It was wonderful! I planted nothing but shrubs and flowers. Weeds weren’t so much of an issue. I loved gardening much more than in my weedy vegetable plot two years prior, and started to feel more confident. Now that I’ve been here a year, and have also had success with gardening, I think I am ready to tackle vegetables again.

My first plan is to layer mulch all along the Southern side of our house. I’ll layer mushroom compost (I found a place to get it for free if I can haul it out!), cardboard, straw, and wood chips on top of the grass. I won’t be able to plant much this first year until the mulch breaks down and kills the grass, but I can plant annual vegetables in bags of topsoil sitting on top of the mulch and then work in that soil at the end of the season. I can also cut through the cardboard and dig in plenty of compost for the berry bushes and trees, and can extend my herb bed as well. I will also plant herbs in the flower beds, and grow snow peas along the fence line. I’ll mulch as much of the garden as I possibly can. Jeff hates mowing, and I hate seeing huge expanses of grass, so it’s win-win. I think hauling in all the soil and hay will be a lot of work, but hopefully I can get it done early in the season when I’m feeling enthusiastic.

I haven’t done my seed order yet, but I did order my berry bushes for Nourse:

- 25 Millenium Asparagus
- 1 Ben Sarek currant
- 1 Jonkheer van Tets currant
- 1 Samyl and 1 Samdal elderberry
- 1 bluecrop blueberry
- 1 Jersey blueberry
- 5 Prime Ark blackberries
- 5 Caroline raspberries

Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough

I’m learning to love baking bread. I remember the first time I made my own bread four years ago, I was so pleased with the results that I swore I’d never buy bread ever again and would always make my own. After the revelatory first loaf, I didn’t make another for a year. The kneading and timing of the different rises was just too finicky for my slapdash cooking style. Since then, I’ve discovered no-knead bread and it’s changed my life. Gone are the days of cramped hands and not being able to eat fresh-out-of-the-oven bread at lunchtime. I just stir together some flour, water, and yeast before I go to bed, shape it again when I wake up, and bake for lunch. It’s amazing.

After I got the hang of no-knead bread, the next thing that I really wanted to conquer though was sourdough. I love the yeasty tang in sourdough bread (I love pretty much anything extra-zingy, really) and so I made a wild-yeast sourdough starter as per the instructions in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing bread baking resource. I patiently fed the starter for a few weeks until it was ready, and then I substituted one cup of flour and one cup of water in the no-knead recipe with 1 cup from my puddle of sourdough starter. The bread rose- without yeast!- and the texture was good, but it wasn’t sour. I kept the sourdough starter alive for a few more months, but never got sour bread out of it, and so eventually I threw it away.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy someone else’s tried-and-true sourdough starter, so I got this. I’ve been feeding it for a couple weeks now, and finally it was big enough to pull a cup out for a loaf of no-knead sourdough bread.

The loaf was beautiful. There was decent crumb, the crust crisped up, and it rose enough without any yeast. But when I sliced into it and tried it, it was sour. I’m talking mouth-puckering, super-sharp sour. Obviously this new sourdough starter is the real deal, and the polar opposite of my previous bland attempt. One cup of this sourdough starter in a no-knead recipe is about twice as much as there should be. I’m worried it won’t rise enough, but I’ll be doing some experimenting soon. In the meantime, I had to find something to do with this extra-sour bread. The flavor would overwhelm any sandwich recipe, and I do like sour, so I wanted to find something that would work with the flavors instead of competing.

Yesterday I went to Whole Foods. I haven’t shopped there in months- all my veggies come from my local CSA, and I have a decent grocery store near me where I can get the basics, and Whole Foods is about half an hour away, so it’s a bit more driving than I usually like to do for groceries. However, I needed to stock up on some staples that my regular store doesn’t have- faro, different weird dried beans, amaranth, Israeli couscous. When I was there, I decided to just do a little browsing of the produce aisle. You know, just to take a look around. Of course this resulted in a handful of impulse buys- vegetables I had no idea what to do with and no plan for whatsoever, but that looked just so tempting that I had to try them. The first of these was fresh fava beans. I’ve never had them and never made them, but they were calling to me, so I bought them.

Fresh fava beans are kind of a pain. I learned this after I bought them. You have to pull the beans out of the shell, then you need to boil them for two minutes, then you need to shock them in ice water, and then you need to peel the skin off each individual bean before you can use them in a recipe. I dutifully shelled a bowl of beans, and tried one. It was delicious! Earthy, nutty, green, fresh– every flavor of summer in one al-dente bite.

The weather is turning here; it’s on the cusp of fall, teetering back and forth and unable to decide. My CSA gave me a box of heirloom cherry tomatoes this week, one of the last before summer is truly over. When I was eating my first fresh fava bean, I imagined popping a bright, sweet cherry tomato in my mouth with it; a good balance of earthy and sweet. I thought about making a salad with a bright, acidic vinaigrette and fresh greens, and then I realized I had something else I could use instead of vinegar– sourdough!

I grilled the sourdough with olive oil, so it was charred, smoky, sour and crunchy. The fava beans and tomatoes are tossed with flaked salt, fresh-ground pepper and garlic, a balance of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, nutty and sweet. If you don’t have extra-sour sourdough, you might want to add a hint of vinegar with the beans and tomatoes. This would still be amazing in a salad, too, with hard-boiled eggs and croutons.

Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough

1 lb fresh fava bean pods
1 cup diced heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp flaked sea salt
several twists of fresh-ground black pepper
4 thick slices of sourdough

Set a small pot of water on the stove to boil. Split the fava bean pods and pull out the beans and set aside. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
When the water is boiling, add the beans and boil for two minutes. Drain and blanch in ice water, let cool.
In the meantime, chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
When the fava beans have cooled, carefully pull aside the skins and pop the beans out. Add the beans to the tomato mixture, stir well, and then mash with a fork a few times to let the flavors really mix together.
Heat up a cast-iron griddle on high and generously brush both sides of the sourdough with olive oil. Grill the sourdough for a couple minutes per side, until there are charred grill lines and the bread is warmed.
Pile a few tablespoons of the bean and tomato salad on top of the sourdough, and enjoy!

Changing With the Seasons

I got the August blahs when it came to the garden. It was hot, I felt like I’d been doing so much for so long, I just lost interest. My mulch pile is still a pile, my rock pile is also still a pile, the weeds are growing fast, and I just haven’t touched anything. Around the same time, my neighbors approached me with the idea of cooking them some extra portions of meals I make at home, so I’ve been caught by the cooking bug recently instead of the gardening bug. Luckily, I’m also starting to feel more interested in the inside of our house again, for the first time in months. It seems like as the weather cools and summer winds down, I’m more interested in making our house cozy.

So instead of lots of exciting garden updates and changes, here are some other things I’ve been enjoying:

New silverware and new plates!

Even more plates! I got all these for $100, can you believe it? Also my stash of cookbooks waiting until I find them a better home, and my seasonal glass pumpkins!

And flowers from the garden.