Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prepping for Spring

I mentioned in an earlier post that Don and I have been preparing raised beds. Now we are waiting on a delivery of topsoil to go in them. We plan to mix the soil with well-composted chicken manure and some other amendments. I'm not sure what, yet. The 30 asparagus crowns I've ordered could be coming any day now, so we are eager to get the beds ready.

This weekend we scrounged peat pellets out of Don's garage, soaked them in water, and started planting. I reviewed the latest revision of the plans I'd made earlier through the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. I appreciate the option of seeing the plans in list view. The planner had already emailed me a list of plants that I have the option of starting indoors or under cover right now, and I took advantage of the list view of my plants to review how many I needed to plant indoors. I tried to focus on plants that like the cool weather but are slow growing, such as chives, onions, and parsley, and plants that like the warm weather but that we want on our table as soon as possible, such as tomatoes.

I patiently planted over 60 seeds in these little pellets: only 8 of the 32 chives I plan to plant, but all of the eggplants, marigolds, onions, parsley, peppers, tomatillos, and tomatoes. Of the peppers, I am planting "Healthy," "Jalapeno, Traveler Strain," "Cayenne Long Slim" and "Corno di Toro Red." Of the tomatoes, I am planting "Italian Heirloom," "Rosso Sicilian," "Big Beef Hybrid," "Brandywine," and Shumway's "Experimental Hybrid 11-F-A." I just checked my list of seeds against a list of seeds owned by Monsanto and didn't find any of this year's plantings on the list, much to my relief. I bought quite a few of them from seed savers' exchanges, and I plan to increase this practice in the future if I am happy with the results.

I planted as many dwarf French Marigolds as the planner called for, but I only planted 8 of the regular marigolds. I picked up a seed-packet of a pretty red variety from Mexico called Cottage Red. The packet says it grows tall and has a bushy habit, so I was afraid to plant four of these in my square-foot garden space, as my plan calls for. I will put one plant per square. I can always plant something small around them if there is too much weed-encouraging space.

The peat pellets are sitting, grouped by type of plant, in plastic trays that I've salvaged from takeout meals, etc., over the winter. I've learned from my blunders in past seasons and labeled the plants carefully this time. I covered the trays, once planted, with plastic wrap to hold in moisture. As soon as the plants start to sprout, I will remove the plastic to discourage fungal diseases.

I sadly don't have a heating-mat to assist plants in germinating. I am keeping the tomatoes, peppers, et al. on my kitchen counters, to benefit from the warmth of the kitchen, much to Don's chagrin. There's a little daylight that comes in through the kitchen window there. We have good light on our back porch, but it's too cool there right now for any of the plants except our onions and parsley. Don fixed up some plastic shelves on the porch to make room for my new "babies" out of the dogs' reach, and I intend to put the temperature-sensitive plants out on the porch during the day when it's warm and then return them to the kitchen in the evening. Hopefully the weather will warm up and we won't have to do this for very long. Will my tomatoes and other nightshades germinate in the cooler-than-recommended temperatures of the kitchen? Time will tell!

Plastic shelves with onions and chives

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kale Tofu Lasagna Recipe

A gallon bag of fresh, nutritious curly kale came to me from the Coastal Farms online local food cooperative today. Joining has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. I didn't order apples from Saunders Brothers this week, for example, so I tried some that Don had bought at the local supermarket. They were nearly tasteless! They were watery and had a very slight apple flavor. I immediately missed my Saunders Brothers apples.

Studies show that the taste of our produce correlates to nutrition, so I know those supermarket apples aren't as nutritious as the coop apples, either. I told Don we're increasing our weekly order to at least 10 lbs. for as long as we can get them.

Did I mention Don has a voracious appetite for apples? The idea is to try to get through the week without buying from the supermarket.

 Don didn't argue. He can taste the difference, too.

The kale is tasty too, and a great source of Vitamin C. You can use it in lots of recipes where you'd use spinach. Here's my original recipe for a kale-tofu lasagna. It came out tasting as good as the picture looks above. I didn't have quite enough noodles, so I am estimating the number needed. It might be a little high.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.


8 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained. I suggest you get the water boiling while you are preparing the other ingredients, and then cook the noodles when the sauce is almost done.

Tofu filling:

  • 14 oz. organic soft tofu, drained and patted dry, then crumbled in a bowl with a fork
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. dried lemon peel
  • leaves from 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed


  • 1/2 large watermelon radish, peeled and diced
  • 3 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups clean kale leaves, tough stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 14.5 oz. can diced no-salt-added tomatoes
  • 2 8-oz. cans low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 1 sprig thyme and 3 small sprigs fresh oregano, tied into a "bouquet garni."
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tsp. sunflower or other oil
  • 1/4 cup Chardonnay wine

While the water is heating up for the lasagna noodles, mix all ingredients for the tofu filling. Set aside. While you are making the sauce, cook the lasagna noodles and drain. Allow to cool slightly .

Make the sauce in a separate saucepan. Heat up the sunflower oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic, radish, and onion, and saute until the onion begins to soften. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and the kale leaves and cover, stirring occasionally, until the kale leaves turn bright green and begin to turn tender. Add the other ingredients, lower heat back to medium, and heat through, stirring occasionally, until hot and bubbly. Remove from heat. Remove the bouquet garni and discard.

Spoon a little of the tomato sauce  into a 9x9" baking panvand spread it to cover the bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with a layer of lasagna noodles--I used kitchen scissors to cut them down to size. Layer half the tofu mixture, then more noodles, then sauce. Then layer the other half of the tofu mixture, then the noodles, then the remaining sauce. 

Put the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 2-4.

Update: I made a variation of this recipe that used a combination of swiss chard and sliced button mushrooms instead of the kale. It came out pretty good, too. I had some excess moisture from the mushrooms that I was too impatient to cook off, so I strained it into some vegetable broth I am planning to use this week. The juices look flavorful.

Kitchen Composting Update

I took some pictures to update my composting post from December. Our composting worms have been happily turning paper and kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer for us. They are even reproducing, since we occasionally catch sight of baby red wrigglers crawling through the compost bin. The babies are camera-shy, and I don't have any pictures of them yet, but I have some pics of their fat, happy parents.

Update on 6/30/12: I am sad to report that we have released our composting worms into a compost pile in the wilds of my backyard. I hope they make out OK!

The reason is that we were not careful enough about freezing or microwaving our food scraps, and we may have over-fed our worms. As a result, our kitchen was overrun with vinegar flies.  We tried burying the kitchen scraps with a deeper layer of brown organic matter, but it didn't help enough.

So, sadly, we collected the vermicompost and spread it in my gardens, and then we released the worms to fend for themselves. NOT in soil, mind you! They would be sure to die there. We have a compost bin full of hay, wood shavings, guinea-pig and rabbit manure, as well as food scraps. We released them there in the hope that they'll have some chance of surviving there.
My worms' new home

We washed out the bins really well. When the vinegar flies are gone from our kitchen, we are going to set up the compost bins again and order more worms. But we'll be careful not to overfeed them, and to freeze or (more likely) microwave our kitchen scraps before feeding, both to help it break down faster for the worms, and to kill off any fly larvae or eggs before they have a chance to become a nuisance.

Live and learn.

Update on 10/25/12: Don and I have been missing our composting worms, so we decided to start the kitchen worm bin back up this fall. Don dug through the outdoor compost bin to look for red wrigglers, but they were gone! Either they've dispersed or something evil befell them. There were a lot of ants in the pile, and Don read somewhere recently that worms and ants don't get along.

So I went online to and found a source of red wrigglers. They were shipped to our home in great condition and with good instructions. Since we've had worms before, we had their home all set up and ready for them. They've settled in quickly and are already making short work of the kitchen scraps they're getting. We've been microwaving the food and cooling it off before giving it to the worms.

I've also been reminded since then to try DE if we have trouble with flies or other insects in our worm bin. DE does the worms no harm, is perfectly natural, but kills most insects without any poisons. I wish I'd remembered that last time round!

Update for January, 2013: Our re-established red wrigglers are doing great. Don is chopping up their food, using a small food processor dedicated for the purpose. He either freezes their food for a few days, or microwaves it, or both. He makes sure the food returns to room temperature before he puts it in their bin, of course. The worms are thriving, they eat a good part of our daily kitchen scraps, and the flies are gone. Success!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Easy Apple and Turnip Salad

This recipe is quick, easy, nutritious, and delicious. Serves 2.


1 small turnip
1 medium to large tart-crisp apple, such as Pink Lady
2 tsp. lemon juice

Peel and julienne the turnip and apple into 2-inch strips. Stir together with the lemon juice.

Apple and Watermelon-Radish Muffin Recipe

This morning's muffin-making experiment turned out so delicious, I had to share. If you like your muffins sweet, replace the milk with an additional 1/4 cup of honey. I actually decreased the amount of flour by two tablespoons and substituted some flax seed meal and wheat germ, but this is optional:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin tins (I lightly sprayed silicon muffin cups with vegetable cooking spray).


  • 1 medium apple (we used Pink Lady) and 1 large watermelon radish, shredded, set aside, mixed with
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dry ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose King Arthur flour
  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons Featherweight Baking Powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • liberal dash of fresh-ground nutmeg
Wet ingredients:

  • well-beaten whites from four eggs, separated (1/4 cup egg substitute will suffice instead)
  • 1/4 cup local raw honey
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sunflower or other oil
 Mix the dry ingredients together. Mix the apple/radish mixture into the dry ingredients, then stir in the wet ingredients until the batter is moist. Ladle into the muffin cups. Put in the preheated oven and turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes or until done.