I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is it soup yet?

There hasn't been a lot of elaborate cooking going on here recently (not that it's EVER elaborate), it's been more like boil the pasta and throw some Parmenon on top. After slathering on the Earth Balance. But with the waning days of autumn (if I may indulge in a little poetic waxing) the kitchen has become far more attractive than it was during the last despicable part of the Mid-Atlantic summer. Which means it's time for soup!

So here is not a soup recipe (maybe later) but the latest version of homemade veggie broth mix to get said soup started. There have been a few times in the past when I actually did a veg stock from scratch, but let's face it, that is not a common pursuit in my kitchen. First of all I can't stand the idea of boiling vegetables to death and then throwing them away (which most broth/stock recipes tell you to do). I think I really prefer to start out with something more of a seasoning base and then make sure the main ingredients carry the show.

I've mentioned before that there is a standard go-to recipe I use for an instant chicken-style soup base (from Joanne Stepaniak), but recently (well, today) there's been some tweaking and influence on that standard after looking at Bryanna Clark Grogan's Vegan Chicken Style Broth Powder.

I'd never included soy in my concoction, it was pretty much the nutri yeast base with salt and dried herbs. But I riffed on Bryanna's version by using soy milk powder instead of soy protein powder, and the soy milk definitely adds a 'roundness' to the broth. It was good just for sippin'! (Note that the soy milk powder can be left out completely and you will still have a good broth mix.)

Bryanna also uses sugar in her mix, which I'd never done before, and frankly I was suspicious. I didn't want a sweet result, but after making up a bit of broth with this hybrid recipe, I can say there was not a noticeable sweetness, again probably just a rounding out of the flavors.

Methinks this is the new standard. Plus it is another seasoning-type recipe that fits nicely in a 1 lb. recycled peanut butter jar. Hoo boy.

Light Instant Broth Mix

1½ cups nutritional yeast flakes
4 Tbs. powdered soy milk (optional; leave out for a clear broth)
3 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. onion granules
1 Tbs. garlic granules
1 Tbs. paprika
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. dried dill or cilantro, or a combination
½ tsp. dried sage
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. freshly ground white pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until finely powdered, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

To make broth, use 1½ tsp. per cup of water, or more to taste.

Option: for a mushroom-style broth, add a tablespoon or two of dry mushroom powder to the other ingredients in the bulk recipe before blending.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Breaking the rules

This lonely little pepper pod came from a plant which came from a seed which came from a plant ('Black Pearl' ornamental pepper) I paid way too much money for last year. Although I got several seedlings this year that looked like the parent plant from last year, the one this pod came from had normal green leaves instead of the almost black leaves characteristic of the variety. It did have a completely black fruit though, which as seen in the photo is halfway to red at this point. Hopefully I left it on the plant long enough for the seeds to be viable.

The usual pod shape on 'Black Pearl' is pretty much round, but this one had a little bit of narrowing at the end so I thought what the muck, let's see what it makes next year. 'Black Pearl' is supposed to be stable, since it has PVP (Plant Variety Protection) status, but the flower from last year's plant that provided the seed for the current year's plant probably had relations with another pepper plant, as the current plant has 'normal' leaves.

Even though the conventional rule is don't save seeds from hybrids cause you don't know what you're gonna get, sometimes that's the whole point. I'd like to see if maybe an individual in the next generation gets some variegation in the leaves, while still producing the inky black fruit. Typically I'll germinate the rule-breakers and see how they grow out for a while. If they are not interesting they can always join the compost pile.

For a really striking ornamental 'black' pepper plant which does have variegated leaves, I prefer a variety called 'Royal Black African'. I got the seed from Amishland Seeds, grew it out for the first time last year, and it was stunning, just as showy as the 'Black Pearl' but with green, violet, and white streaking in some of the leaves, and more pointed fruit (which I like better than round). Even with a late start from seed it caught up with the 'Black Pearl' (which was at least 18" tall at time of purchase) in a few months. The plant in the photo below is still fairly small so there aren't as many dark leaves yet; don't take it as representative of a mature plant. When the plant is mature, the dark leaves dominate and it is much more noteworthy.

The seedlings this year were from my own saved seed, and I think there is even more streaking this year, but since the little darlings are pretty much growing in the shade they are probably not normal specimens. Still pretty though.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange carries a variety called 'Royal Black', and from the website description of the variety I think it's the same as 'Royal Black African', or very, very close to it (the leaves in the website photo appear to be green, however, not dark and streaked, per the accompanying description).

So the season is winding down, the garden was subject to a humiliating lack of sun, and the roller coaster weather helped not one little bit.

Can't wait 'til next year!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inventory time, and lessons learned

Besides the obvious answer to the question, "What vegetables can you grow in the shade?" (not many), this season brought a few surprises/ successes, and had the gardener been a little more attentive, the success rate would probably have been a smidge bit better.

Insufficient sun is not going to net you big honkin veggies. However, more modestly sized varieties, such as the Pizza My Heart pepper, as well as many hot peppers, may struggle along and produce an acceptable yield. The Pizza My Hearts shown here are probably destined for a veggie sausage-and-peppers combo, as they are sweet but can occasionally zing you with a little spiciness.

I had scads of JalapeƱos and Cascabellas (well scads for me anyway). Basil, parsley, and the other herbs did OK. The African marigolds went nuts, and the French Dwarfs got nice and bushy with a little time. The Swiss Chard is even growing moderately well, and the lettuce would have done better if it hadn't gotten eaten by the Trombetta di Albenga squash vines, which only made one damn decent squash, but I didn't find it until after ripping up the vines in disgust. The Trombetta had gorgeous, enormous leaves by the way, and made gillions of flowers (which I didn't use- idiot!), and was certainly not the one at fault for being so stingy with the fruit. Trying to grow it with only an hour or so of direct sun a day is cruel and unusual punishment, so it gave me leaves and flowers instead of fruit.

Which brings me to lesson number 1. You can grow leaves in the shade. Most leaves don't care. It's fruit that cares, and will snub you unmercifully by not showing up to your party. Herbs and greens are the mainstay of the kitchen shade garden.

Then lesson number 2. Forget mammoth tomatoes and put your bets on golf ball sized fruits, if you insist on trying to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and the like in shade. I got a few smallish cucumbers and eggplants this season, so next year, if I am unfortunately still here, the plan is to grow only midget varieties.

Lesson number 3. Once the funds are available again (with salary freezes things are pretty tight, like everybody on the planet didn't know that already), hire an arborist and limb up/down whatever I can get away with on the trees on the property.

Lesson number 4. A fall garden may be the best bet for a shaded yard, as the canopy is decreasing and the light increasing, even though the sun is at at a lower angle.

Lesson number 5. Tear up the front yard and put the garden there. It gets a whole THREE hours of sun a day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Before the seeds get into the envelopes below, they have to get out of the seed production units, whatever they may be. Herbs seeds can often be uncooperative due to tiny size, and their tendency to hole up in equally tiny seed capsules/cavities.

Enter another use for one of my (way-too-many) kitchen gadgets. Trying to get Thai basil seeds out of their jackets was really yanking on my carpal tunnel. This mortar with ribbed sides was perfect for rubbing the little suckers out of their hiding places.

The top of the bowl is about 5.5", tapering to a bottom of about 2", so my fingers fit easily inside to roll the seed heads around the sides of the mortar, freeing most of the seeds to drop to the bottom.

I love justifying gadget purchases.

Growing pains

The garden was almost a complete flop this year (well, the marigolds did OK). The shade in the back yard is now so complete the harvest wouldn't feed a family of mice. Sigh.

Still, there are some things going to seed, so what do we do? Waste valuable time making seed envelopes! Instead of working on the house and selling it and moving somewhere that has sun!

The latest incarnation is not exactly a step by step, it's more of a spec sheet for what I currently do to contain the seeds of a meager harvest.

There have been some changes to the original envelope template, most notably cutting a curve into the top of the back section ever so slightly, to make it easier to fold down the top flap, and angling the edges on the side and bottom flaps, also to make for easier folding. The template and specs are provided in Word this time so customizing should be easy peasy.