Monday, January 20, 2014

Mother Nature is a fickle woman !!

What a fantastic Iowa spring day! Sunday in the 50s, snow melting all over, just an amazing day. Except for one thing. It's January. We know it isn't going to stick around. In fact, snow is on the way and highs in the teens and more below zero temps THE VERY NEXT DAY. But these teaser days get me thinking about gardening, and gardening goes right along with cooking.

This year there will be some new additions to our garden. There are a lot of vegetables we have not grown before and this is going to be the year. Kale, for one. All my friends rave about it, Food Network is always using it in recipes, yet unless it's been snuck into a salad mix and I didn't know it, I don't think I have ever tasted it. Brussels sprouts too. I love to roast a pan full of Brussels sprouts tossed with bacon and roasted onion. Beets may join the party. I hear Brussels sprouts are a challenge to grow but I like at least ONE challenging plant every year so I think this year it will be these little guys. Roasted root vegetables are hard to beat for an easy and delicious side dish. My life experiences with beets have not been the best- from my mom opening a can of tasteless cubes and heating them, to horrible piles of "Harvard Beets" served at luncheons at different church functions, it's not been the best. Yet again browsing veggie catalogs I see such beautiful different beets and I long to roast them and try them in a whole new way. 

We use a ton of tomatoes around here, and the bulk of our tomatoes come from the farm and are canned at home for use throughout the year but we always make sure to grow a couple plants at home for eating day to day. There are so many wonderful heirloom tomatoes out there, and I could save seed and keep them coming year after year. Bell peppers- eh- they are hit or miss for us. We either have more than we need or not a single one, and again, those we can get at the farm. I do want to grow some super hot peppers again this year and have three different ones to choose from that I have never grown before. 

Every year we grown a TON of herbs for cooking. Last summer was a terrible year for our herbs so we need to catch up with several herbs. Basil is one we use loads of all year long and I need to get growing a forest of basil plants! Parsley is a big hit around here too. Italian flat leaf parsley is a great addition to salads, I love the peppery bite. And it's pretty hardy so a little snow doesn't usually kill it off. We had a very early spring last year but all was lost when we had a May snowstorm- the basil was killed and never fully recovered before the blazing hot, dry summer moved in. I barely had enough for fresh use. So early start in the house this year. Poring over the seed catalogs might inspire me to try some new herbs as well. I love lots of fresh thyme as well, and hopefully will grow several different types this year.

But let's forget the unusual edibles- flowers! I love to grow edible flowers. Everything from chive blossoms to nasturtiums, if it's edible in any way, I try to grow it. Even the humble wild violet makes an appearance on our table, in jelly, or just petals tossed into salad. Just be careful and know what you're picking and eating, and make sure it hasn't been treated with any chemicals! 

And you can't talk about spring in Iowa without talking about the wonderful wild foods that are everywhere- free for the picking, if you're willing to spend the time hunting. From tender stalks of wild asparagus growing roadside ditches to the famous and highly sought after morel mushroom, there are TONS of amazing wild edibles all over. Just plan on spending a day, and don't be too heartbroken if you come home empty handed a time or two.

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