Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There are Vegans in the House!

Thanksgiving is two days away, and there are vegans to cook for. Now, that thought might strike terror into the heart of a cook that caters to a bunch of hard-core carnivores, but I've been doing this for years, and I think I might have it down pretty well. Other than the turkey, one batch of gravy and the deviled eggs for our family's carnivores, the rest of the dinner will be "vegan". I put that in quotes because that term is often misunderstood by mainstream traditionalists and conjures up thoughts of tofu, salads and tasteless veggies, but that ain't necessarily so.

Just the opposite, in fact. There aren't any rich cheese and sour cream dishes, to be sure, but that isn't healthy, anyway. There are many "mainstream" meals that don't use dairy, eggs, or meat if you think about it. Many recipes can be easily made vegan with just a few adjustments, and also healthier for you at the same time. My daughter makes a bruschetta to die for, and oh what she does with pasta! but that is another story.

It has become second nature to reach for miso soup in place of turkey broth for the dressing, olive oil instead of butter, coconut or palm oil in desserts instead of butter, Veganaise dressing base for the Waldorf salad, and soy or almond milk instead of dairy. And really, it doesn't taste any different, and if we don't mention it to our other guests, they never know they are eating vegan-friendly food that is actually healthy for them; and there is butter on the table for them or they can use olive oil, Mediterranean style.

On the menu at our house this year:

Oven-roasted turkey w/gravy
Sage/nut dressing
Vegan gravy (made with miso)
Cushaw Squash and apple soup garnished with chopped nuts and fried sage leaf garnish
Deviled eggs               Creamed peas w/mint
Some kind of roasted veggie/rice dish by the family vegans, it will be yummy!
Waldorf Salad              Cranberry salad
Winter green onions from my garden  
Jellied cranberry sauce
Swedish hardbread (a tradition at our house)
Apple Crisp
Rice Pudding
Pumpkin pie

Iced tea    Hot cider   Coffee

The Cushaw squash soup is scrumptious this year. I made a really big batch so I would have some to put in the freezer for quick and tasty winter meals. Cushaws are an heirloom variety, green and white striped that can weigh up to 20 lbs. It has a fine, grainy yellow flesh that is delicious in soups.

The recipe: It started out as a sweet savory apple squash soup, but of course I had to tweak it, and made it up as I went along.

Squash and Apple Soup

One Cushaw Squash, 8-10 lbs, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed and scraped.
2 TBS olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
5 lbs; (or 8-10) Jonathon apples (or other hard cooking apple such as Macintosh) peeled, cored, and cut into about 1" chunks
6 cups red miso soup
8 cups water (or enough to cover vegetables)
1 TBS fresh thyme leaves
1 TBS garlic powder
1 tsp ginger
1 TBS chili powder (or other hot pepper, sometimes I use ground Thai pepper but this is very hot so adjust for taste. 1 tsp is enough for the whole batch.)
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 450F. Line 10" x 15" jelly roll pans with foil. Place squash halves, cut side down, in lined pans and roast about 45 min or until very tender when pierced with fork. Cool until easy to handle, scoop squash from skin and place in large bowl. ( I found that the thick, solid neck of the squash took longer to cook than the hollow body, so I cut them in half and let the necks bake longer until done).

Meanwhile, in 5-6 qt saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. When hot, add onion and celery, cover and cook 10 minutes. Add apples, cover and cook 10 minutes longer or until tender. (You don't need to add any water at this stage).

At this point, because I don't have a huge kettle, I divided my apple mix in half and put one half into another 5-6 qt pan and divided the remaining ingredients, half into each pan.

Add miso, water, and squash to saucepot, cover and heat to boiling on high. Reduce heat to low and simmer until everything is really tender and mushy. I stirred them a lot to keep it from sticking. Ladle squash mix into blender with center part removed to allow steam to escape; (I let it cool some first). Blend until pureed. Pour into large bowl. Return all soup to saucepot and heat through. Ladle into soup tureen. Serves a big crowd or freeze in meal-size portions.

Garnish with chopped nuts and fried sage leaves.

To make fried sage leaves: heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a small sacuepan until hot and "shimmering". Add 5 or 6 medium-size sage leaves at a time and stir 5 seconds. With slotted spoon, quickly transfer leaves to paper towels to drain. Cool completely. Leaves will crisp as they cool. You can fry leaves a day ahead and store in airtight container at room temperature.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gentle Inheritance

Every time I get to thinking of Chaos in the Parrillel Universe that is this garden spot, as MY garden, I get gently reminded that no, I'm just the caretaker here.

A while back in early summer, The Digger decided he didn't like an old Pfitzer juniper that has occupied a corner of the stone wall for the last 25 years, and he was right. It was half dead, besides being a prickly uncomfortable thing, so it had to go. And with it, a thick bed of euonymous ground cover that had taken over the corner, plus some Japanese honeysuckle that had sneaked in and was tangled around an overgrown pyracantha, which had also way outgrown its bounds. A couple of weed trees, a male mulberry and a hackberry, had insinuated themselves next to the wall and gotten tall enough to cast a disrespectable amount of shade, because the corner was a tangled prickly mess no one wanted to deal with.

When all the above was removed, pulled, chopped, and tamed, a Foster holly was set in the corner to provide an evergreen anchor to that corner of the yard, and I planted a flat of mixed periwinkles in front of it for a temporary spot of color until next spring when I can plant perennials there. With all that tall junk gone, it now was a full sun spot and the periwinkles soon reached lush heights and blazed with hot, happy summer pinks, whites and reds, glowing and growing through the August heat and drought without wilting a leaf. It was so pretty I may have to change my mind about perenials and just plant periwinkles there from now on!


And here came the surprises. Once upon a time, some 50 years ago, or so my neighbor to the south at the bottom of the hill tells me, the Lady That Planted the Garden grew hollyhocks in that corner that she could see from her porch, 2 doors down, blooming tall over the wall. Apparently, with pulling out all that euonymous and disturbing the soil, hollyhock seeds that had lain fallow for all that time were brought to the surface (they need light to germinate) and, germinate, they did! I first noticed them as I was pulling out pigweed and other undesirables, when to my astonishment, I saw---baby hollyhocks! There were some half dozen of them, tiny and hopeful behind the holly tree! So I left them. And they grew, oh my how they grew!

  Plants are beginning to fill in, this should be spectacular next year. There are tall phlox, thalictrum, paracanda, echinacea, mums, golden yarrow, a variegated miscanthus, daylilies, a sprinkling of daffodils, irises, and a winter jasmine on the wall. A row of white flowered mondo grass edges the front, hopefully kept in check with a strip of landscape edging which will be invisible as soon as the plants grow a bit. Hardy geraniums are planned where the periwinkles were. All of these plants were divided and moved from somewhere else in the gardens except the chrysanthemums, which will have cuttings taken next year to be planted elsewhere. (Quick tip: can't remember what color of mums are where? Take a picture or two for reference. I always tag them, but tags get lost.)
You can see the hollyhocks in the back.

I didn't put anything here for scale, but these plants are huge! They are overtaking daylilies and mums that I actually planted in this corner.

This one is about 5' across in it's first summer. I can only imagine how tall they will be next year!

Another surprise: This bed is also full of volunteer petunias. Since I have never planted petunias here, the seeds must also have been banked up in here for all those years. I love these old petunias that reseed and come up every year with no help from me.

Next spring, I will plant an antique climbing rose on the wall, yet to be decided upon, to spread across the top of the wall. Once there was a Seven Sisters rose here, but long ago it was shaded out by big lilacs that grow to the east. One cane of it rooted on the other side of the wall and now blooms in the neighbors' yard. I may have to go and get a piece of it.

Even though she left long ago, the Lady continues to surprise me in sprit with her gentle inheritances. I'm sure there will be more to come.

"He who shares the joy in what he's grown
Spreads joy abroad and doubles his own."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Be Careful Of the Little Things

So easy to get in a hurry with fall cleanup, rush through the leaf-raking chores to get them done. But take care----

This little cutie was hanging out on a brugmansia that I was cutting back

And this little fellow nearly got the business end of the broom when I was sweeping off the deck, as it was sunning, surrounded by acorns. It was so well camoflaged on the grey deck boards that I would have missed it if it hadn't moved a little. It was cold and moving slowly so it was easy to capture and move out of harms way.

This praying mantis egg case almost got tossed on the fire when I cut back hardy ageratum in the fall
 cleanup, but luckily I spotted it, 4' above the ground, before I cut off the stem.

I found wooly caterpillars today, assasin bugs, several  lizards and a garter snake sunning itself on a rock, as I was cutting back perennials. Fallen leaves are left to protect the plants, and add organic matter to the soil over the winter. In the spring, the top layer of leaves that didn't decompose are taken off to the compost pile. Leaf fall on paths and driveways is raked and shredded on a weekly basis, before anything can take up residence in there (and before it becomes one biiiiggg chore!), then added to garden beds where they break down quickly, nourishing the soil.  Lawn leaves are mowed with the mulching blade on the mower to add nutrients to the lawn.

The fall cleanup isn't so pressing that we can't take the time to enjoy the diversity that gives our gardens life, and to take care lest we in our haste, destroy a tiny life.There are many little treasures that live in the leaves and detrius of the garden that largely go unseen except by the most observant gardener, and keeping a spotless garden deprives them of a place to spend a cosy winter. It is so easy to scoop them up unnoticed among the leaves if we clean up all the leaves that fall into the beds, and toss them out with the trash or worse, into the shredder.

So let the leaves lay as they may! There will be plenty of time in the spring to divest the plants of their protective leaf blankets, and when the snow flies, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that in the spring, the butterflies will come again, the frogs will sing, the mantids will pray, and lightning bugs will fill our nights with gentle fireworks.