Think about it. They start their residency in the garden as frumpy brown orbs buried deep in the soil in October or November. They are usually planted here in Seattle on a dark rainy day and are then left to hibernate all winter. They endure snow, darkness, endless storms and in some cases marauding squirrels inclined to dig them up.
Then come mid winter, they start to peek out from the ground and slowly but surely send forth beautiful green leaves, then stalks and ultimately a burst of brilliant color! I have always loved tulips but it was during the spring of 2020, at the height of the COVID shutdowns, that I gained a renewed appreciation for them.
Clearly defying the odds, they bring so much sumptuous color and sheer joy. And, from a busy gardener’s perspective, they require very little fuss, which to me is a true mystery.
As I admire my tulip bed this year and tuck the gorgeous flowers into vases, pitchers, tea tins and jam jars around the house, I marvel at life’s littlest miracles!
Last January, I was sitting on my couch moping and wondering when things would spring back to life. The world as we knew it was shut down. The day was dark and rain was pelting the windows.
I was scrolling aimlessly through Instagram.
One simple post caught my eye. A gal in New York City (a gal who was clearly as bored as I was!) had planted a bunch of seeds in clear seltzer bottles and milk jugs and explained she was experimenting with “winter sowing.” Curious about this winter sowing thing, I went down that Instagram rabbit hole and discovered an ingenious system for sowing seeds, outside, during the winter months without the use of supplementary heat, light, or a classic greenhouse!
This was just the project I needed to push me off the couch and into action!
Developed over twenty years ago by Trudi Davidoff, a resident of Long Island, winter sowing is a system she devised when she wanted to start her plants by seed but lacked a lot of space inside. Using simple recycled materials such as translucent milk jugs, salad boxes and soda bottles, winter sowing harnesses the power of nature on many levels, and for me last year, it resulted in an incredible organic kitchen garden that brought a bountiful harvest!
At first, I was doubtful that sowing seeds in January in jugs and setting them outside in the elements would work, so rather than gambling with my expensive seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds, I headed to Dollar Tree where I bought an array of packets-bachelor buttons, larkspur, kale, Parris Island Romaine lettuce, lavender and more. At 25 cents per packet, I figured my investment wasn’t huge by any means, so it was a perfect opportunity to test the task.
Wow! I planted my first seeds—Lupines, larkspur, lettuces in mid-January and by mid-February, I had growth and green sprouts coming up. Even in the midst of a massive Valentine’s Day weekend snow storm, my little plants stayed cozy enough to survive. This was the only proof I needed to go full steam ahead. Within weeks, I had sown probably more than 40 milks jugs with everything from zucchini, beans, peas, sweet peas, sunflowers, and even tomatoes!
My efforts paid off in the spring when I had tons of garden ready flowers and vegetables to plant easily from the jugs to the garden beds. Because the plants had grown outdoors, they were acclimated to the elements and didn’t need to be hardened off or coddled before going into their new homes. (A big bonus for the busy gardener!) When I transplanted them, I did make sure to cover the tender plants with the milk jugs or a clear salad box, to protect them from birds, crows and Seattle’s infamous slugs.
My garden got a huge jump start in and when the vegetables and annual flowers started appearing in the local nurseries in April and May, it was clear that I had saved myself a ton of money because the prices for basic garden vegetables had skyrocketed.
Furthermore, options were extremely limited due to the pandemic challenges at hand.
So, if you want to grow more flowers and vegetables by seed and save yourself a ton of money this spring, gear up now and get winter sowing!
The method involves harnessing supplies such as translucent one gallon milk jugs, duct tape, scissors or a sharp Exacto knife, high quality organic potting soil, a Sharpie, labels and seed packets.
I started by slitting four or five holes in the bottom of thoroughly sanitized and rinsed milk jugs, and then slicing around the milk jug equator, but leaving the milk jug intact at the handle so it can be opened up like a little cloche when weather gets warmer. The milk jug cap is discarded, as the little hole at the top will allow rain to drizzle in and maintain a moist environment. I then put about four inches of organic potting soil in the bottom of the milk jug, wet the soil thoroughly until water runs through the holes in the bottom, add a packet of seeds, label the container, and then use the duct tape to seal the equator slit. The jug is then set outside. It’s pretty much a “set it and forget it” method much like a slow cooker!
In my yard I set the jugs on a southeast side of the house where they simply hang out until they are naturally inclined to sprout. (As the season warms up, the jugs do need to be checked intermittently to make sure they don’t dry out or get too hot but that’s part of the fun and daily joy of checking the little jugs!)
I’m continually amazed by my “Milk Jugs Miracles” because they endure rain, frost, and even last year’s heavy February snow only to spring to life when the seeds are ready. This year on Martin Luther King weekend, I got started by planting leeks, Tom Thumb lettuce, Parris Island Romaine, and Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce. Incredibly, those lettuces are already springing to life! My heirloom sweet peas, planted later in the month, are now also swelling and pushing forth!
I love this simple economical method so much, I am hosting a winter sowing workshop at my Seattle P Patch in order to share the method with my fellow P Patch gardeners.
An excellent resource for further information is the Winter Sowers Facebook page, which was started by Trudi and now has over 75,000 members from all over the world.
Well, let’s make no bones about this. Inflation is indeed here. I predicted massive price hikes last January and told my kids to batten down the hatches because it was coming in all forms.
Now, even mainstream media is reporting on this nasty fiscal reality.
I realize I can’t fix inflation but there is a lot I can do to ride the wave. One of my best tactics? Cook and cook more at home, relying on basic items such as dried beans, frozen and canned vegetables, an array of dried herbs and spices and a freezer stocked with meats and seafood. With a well-stocked arsenal and a little creativity, I’m finding I can safeguard the budget to a certain degree and still enjoy a nice entrée at the end of the day.
That said, there are many kitchen items that make an inflation fighting home cook more efficient and successful. Here’s are my top five tools:
High Quality Chef’s Knife
Do NOT cut corners here, folks! A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one because it’s more likely to slip under pressure and cut you when you are trying to force that dull blade through something like a bagel or dense vegetable. I’ve had my 10-inch Dick’s Chef Knife since I purchased it at Peter Kump’s Cooking School in 1989 and I’ve used it every day since. Other great knife options? Wusthof Classic. When choosing a knife, go to the store and ask to hold it in your hand to see if it’s a good fit. Once you’ve found the knife, take care of it, and DON’T put it in the dishwasher!
Good Saucepans with Fitting Lids
Invest in a few good saucepans in varying sizes. You’ll use them for everything from steaming those frozen vegetables to cooking a box of pasta dragged out from the pantry after a long day of work. I have a few decent Farber ware pans, but admittedly I love my Le Creuset saucepans which I use daily. Yes, they are pricey and can be hard to source given the global supply chain issues, but if you can get your hands on one or two, do it. They last forever.
Le Creuset Dutch Ovens
Another versatile and indispensable piece of cookware? My Le Creuset Dutch ovens. These are the true workhorses in my house. Made in France, they come in a range of sizes and colors and work equally as well on the stovetop as they do in the oven. They are the perfect tool for stews, soups, braises, and even baking breads. An investment that will return delicious dividends for decades. There are less expensive Dutch ovens available, and they could work fine for your budget but I’m just partial to Le Creuset. They heat evenly and stand up to so much. In the end, quality and investments pay off. Plus they last for generations. Truly.
Instant Pots! Many folks shy away from these electric cookers because they find the electronic dashboard and options a bit intimidating to navigate. That said, it’s worth reading the instruction manual and giving it a shot. These versatile cookers are priceless because the pressure-cooking feature cooks foods in a fraction of the time and magically maintains pressure to handle the task with little input from the cook. I use mine, the original Duo for making bone broths, cooking economical dried beans, vegetable soups and tomato sauce. I use the pressure steam feature to cook items like potatoes, salmon and even artichokes and hard-boiled eggs. The yogurt feature is also amazing at cranking out deliciously decadent yogurt from a basic quart of milk! (The price of one quart of Chobani Greek Yogurt is now tipping $7 a quart out here in Seattle so it’s a valuable feature indeed. Do the math on that one!) So, to put it simply don’t overlook the power of this wonderful pot! If you need a little extra support or inspiration, check out the 1000 tested recipes on their website.
The Cuisinart Food Processor
Of all the items listed here, I have to say my Cuisinart Food Processors are perhaps my favorite inflation busting tool! I have three that sit on my counter and indeed they get used all the time. My mini chopper is the one that gets pulled forth nearly every day now that we are empty nesters and it’s the one that gets called into action for thrifty homemade vinaigrettes crafted from kitchen staples such as mustard, oil, vinegar, and herbs. The mini also cranks out a super cilantro chimichurri that dresses up a simple piece of Alaska cod pulled from the fish drawer in the freezer. My Cuisinart Pro Custom 11 Cup processor is the tool I use to make lemony chicken salad from leftover roast chicken or a creamy shawarma hummus. When the shredding and slicing blades are clicked into place on my Pro Custom, I process an endless array of cabbage, carrots and onions in a flash which lets me sidestep the pricey prepared veggies section in the product department. (Here in Seattle, we pay a 10% tax on prepared food items so that adds an extra layer of expense to an already pricey item!) This mid-size processor is also the one I use to make my No Rise Pizza Dough.
So, with food inflation here to stay, it’s time to gear up and act! What is your tool?
Next up? Fighting inflation one seed at a time…in my little urban kitchen garden!
Now that the holidays are over and the decorations are packed away, the house always seems a little less exciting. That said, last weekend I decided to take a lead from my mom and spruce up the space with some indoor flowering plants.
When I was growing up my mom always had amaryllis blooming in the house after the holidays and well into January. I missed the boat on planting amaryllis and narcissus this holiday season so on Saturday I strolled over to Seattle’s Swanson’s Nursery and was cheerfully greeted at the entrance with a sea of cyclamen! Small in size and featuring bright pink, red or white flowers, these little plants are the perfect antidote to the dreary weather we have been having here in the Emerald City. Priced at about $8 and long blooming, I figured they were a thrifty way to satisfy my antsy green thumb and bring cheer to the kitchen table!
A sea of cyclamen at Swanson’s Nursery
I bought two pink ones. At home I removed them from the four inch pots and nestled them in a small brass planter purchased the day before at the thrift store. My little flowering composition now sits at the breakfast table and indeed brightens the room. Easy to care for, they only require water every few days and a pinching off of any dead blooms. With a little TLC they will continue to bloom, and apparently, they will die off in spring but they will come back to life next year!
For me, this “kitchen garden” keeps my itchy thumb active until the seed packets come out…
Inspired by the cuisine of Morocco, these savory lamb burgers feature mint, coriander (fresh and dried), garlic, and cumin which results in a delicate yet intensely flavored burger that can be served over a salad, with a pita or in a traditional bun.
Back in September my husband, daughter and I took a day trip up to Christianson’s Nursery in the scenic Skagit Valley. The nursery is one of my favorite sources for unique plants but on this sunny Sunday our destination was The Skagit Valley Farmers Market held in The Vinery, a recently restored 6000 square foot historic pea vining site. This was the inaugural year for the market, which ran from May to September and on this Sunday the local artisans, farmers, ranchers, beekeepers and bakers offered an array of lovely items.
After poking around the simply stunning Vinery with my daughter, I started to hunt down my husband and eventually found him talking to Mike Donnelly of Martiny Livestock LLC, a small family ranch located in Birdsview, WA. Mike was enthusiastically showing my husband the cuts of processed and vacuum-packed lamb he had on hand. I then saw a sign on the table indicating we could purchase a whole lamb as opposed to cuts.
In short order, we arranged for pickup, and I now have an array of different lamb cuts at the ready-steaks, chops, ribs, and about 15 one pound packages of ground lamb. I’ve always loved a good lamb burger so I started to mentally fabricate flavor profiles that could work with such a treasure trove in the freezer.
Last week during a cold and dark rainy afternoon I decided to get adventurous and developed a Moroccan-inspired lamb burger. I basically added diced onion, fresh mint, and coriander, plus garlic, cumin and ground coriander with some panko and an egg. My husband formed the mixture into three five-ounce patties using a hamburger ring. Grilled outside during that horrific rain, served on a toasted brioche bun with homemade chimichurri and just picked winter lettuces, it was delicious, warming, restorative, and uplifting in each savory bite.
Here’s the recipe, which features a stovetop cooking technique on a ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan but also offers tips for grilling outside…if you care to brave the elements!
A juicy savory grilled lamb burger with fresh mint, coriander, and cumin
Course: Main Course
ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan
1/4 small onion, chopped
1/4cuppanko (Japanese bread crumbs)
3Tablespoonschopped fresh mint
1/4 cupchopped fresh coriander
4garlic cloves, chopped
in a medium bowl combine the lamb, onion, panko, egg, fresh mint, fresh coriander, garlic, cumin, ground coriander and salt. With a spoon or very clean hands, combine the mixture thoroughly and divide into three even patties.
Spray the patties lightly with oil on both sides. Preheat a Le Creuset ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan over high heat. Sear the lamb burgers one minute on each side. Then reduce the heat to moderately high and cook the lamb burgers for about five minutes on each side for medium doneness. (Alternatively cook the burgers on a grill, searing them for about a minute on each side and then moving them to moderately high heat on the grill and cook for about five minutes on each side as well.)
Serve the lamb burgers with traditional buns, brioche, pita bread or on a lightly dressed salad of seasonal greens.
As a gardener I am constantly reminded that life can often be mysterious but it always comes full circle! Now that the leaves are falling here in Seattle and the winds are howling around the neighborhood, it’s always fun to do a Garden Year in Review!
Throughout the gardening season, which starts in January for me, I take photos and try to document what I did and when I did it! This proves helpful on many levels as it acts as a prompt for the next year. While perusing my photos this morning, I was reminded how this was a particularly busy (and beautiful!) year for us in the garden!
This year we added a flock of hens, a custom chicken coop, raised beds, an herb garden, multiple miniature David Austin roses, scented geraniums from Christianson’s Nursery, and an array of trellises to grow beans. I also kept my 200 square foot community garden plot and the food bank bed going at the Haller Lake P Patch near my home.
In review, the rewards were huge both in terms of produce, herbs, and flowers harvested as well as in the personal rewards of starting many things from seed and seeing them come to maturity, both in the garden and on the dinner table!
For me, gardening isn’t a chore, it’s a creative outlet that lets me experiment and dabble, hoping it all comes to some form of fruition! Some things did great. My herb garden is booming. I harvested a ton of tomatoes, cabbage, chards, kales, and lettuces.
That said, our pole beans were more challenging and I had to replant one plot three times as some evasive and annoying critter was devouring the tendrils before they could get a grasp on life. I never solved that problem in that corner of the yard, gave up on the bean plot right there and decided to plant something else. In the end the pole beans planted elsewhere in the yard did ok so that one corner of my garden world remains a mystery!
I could certainly say a lot more about all this but for now, here’s a photo tour from my Kitchen Garden 2021!
Winter? Seriously? Who’s ready to think about THAT when we are celebrating Labor Day this weekend?
Well, here in Emerald City, I’m springing ahead to winter because now is the time to plant cold-hardy greens such as kale, chard, lettuces, and spinach.
Thanks to Seattle’s wet but relatively mild winters, I have had great luck growing a motley variety of greens. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now and it’s always a great pleasure to go out into the garden on a cold dreary December afternoon to pick lettuce, collards, and sometimes even big Savoy cabbages for dinner.
At this point in the season, it’s too late to start cabbages by seed, as those seeds need to be sown in June for best results. That said, there’s still plenty of time to start some of the chef’s favorites such as cilantro, microgreens, kales, chard, and lettuces.
In fact, it’s exactly what I’m doing this week.
I’ve pulled up many of my spent and depleted summer plants such as Costata Romanesco zucchini, Romano beans, sunflowers, Hasta La Pasta spaghetti squash, and a few spindly tomato plants. In those naked sections of the garden, I’m turning the soil and watering it heavily to reinvigorate it before I sow any seeds. The next step will be to plant quick-growing varieties so they can get established and off to the races before the darker days start to settle in around October. Some of my favorites to plant now?
All of these varieties still have time to get established enough to produce and, in many cases with a little protection like a cloche, an upside-down glass salad bowl, or a frost blanket, they will make it through the winter and spring back to life in late February and March, just when the craving for fresh greens is really hitting home.
As I said, I’ve been winter gardening for over 20 years but as we continue to travel this pandemic pathway and suffer inflation and supply chain shortages of all ilks, I really think it’s time to rediscover the joy and practicality of winter gardening!
My Raspberry Shortcake berry plants, both at home and at my P Patch, are in full production mode right now. The berries are red, plump, and juicy. Perfect little seasonal moments in time really.
So, this week I decided to pick a pint and make Raspberry Vinegar. I often make Tarragon Vinegar during the summer months as it makes a flavorful addition to homemade vinaigrettes. That said, I have never tried it with my fresh berries but this year I decided to give it a try. Using a basic Raspberry Vinegar recipe from Taste of Home as a springboard, I crafted my own version, reducing the sugar and adding fresh tarragon as a flavorful counterpoint.
The results? After straining the steeped vinegar, the finished product is a brilliant red with an aromatic raspberry flavor and a distinct tarragon note. In the kitchen, I used it in a simple Raspberry Shallot Vinaigrette destined for homegrown lettuces or perhaps even a grilled zucchini salad.
A simple seasonal vinegar made from fresh raspberries and tarragon
Ball Mason Jar
Vinegar Style jar
1pintraspberriesrinsed and drained
3cupsdistilled vinegar (I used Heinz)
Put the raspberries and the tarragon sprigs in a heat proof one quart glass Mason Jar and set aside.
In a large saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring just to a low boil. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the berries and tarragon sprigs. Let the vinegar cool slightly and then cover with the lid. Let the vinegar stand at room temperature for about two days. (The vinegar will take on a lovely red hue as it sits!)
After about two days, strain the vinegar through a sieve and into a funnel which feeds into a sterilized jar, preferably a vinegar style storage jar. Discard the raspberries and tarragon sprigs left in the sieve. Cap the raspberry vinegar and store in a cool dark place.
If real estate in your garden is a hot commodity but you still want to expand the pickings, seriously consider dwarf varietals of plants. There are many unique options on the market and they really can be little powerhouses when it comes to prolific production and harvests.
Perhaps my favorite example of one such dwarf is the thornless Raspberry Shortcake berry from Bushel and Berry. A compact raspberry plant perfect for patios, planters, small gardens, and little corners, it produces the fattest most beautiful little red orbs each July. I purchased my first two plants over ten years ago when the variety was first introduced to the market. Over the years I have divided them, replanting many in big tubs in the garden and planting many in a makeshift raised bed at my organic community P Patch here in Seattle.
The bushes grow only to about 24 inches high so they don’t get tall and leggy. Because they are compact, they don’t shade other things in the garden and they are a fabulous edible plant for the little gardeners in the yard! My kids loved plucking these off the vine and sampling them on the spot. The berries are great in desserts, fruit salads, tarts, and cereals.
As for maintenance and care, they are very low-key! I fertilize and add compost in the spring. I trim the dead branches and divide if the containers look too crowded. When the days get warm and sunny, I water often which is critical for getting the berries luscious, plump and juicy!
Plants can be found at many small nurseries and home improvements stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They are also sold on Amazon. To find a retailer in your area, search your zip code on the Bushel and Berry website locater.
Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.
I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?
Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!
The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.
I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.
The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.
Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!