Food From the Garden

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We’ve been getting a CSA vegetable box (which sometimes includes fruit) every Wednesday, as part of my work with The Garden Detroit. In addition to those goodies, whenever I work at the Garden, I usually end up taking something home – zucchini, tomatoes, kale, chard, carrots, parsley.

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We try really hard not to waste food in our house and now that a bulk of the veggies have been nurtured by yours truly, we’ve been trying especially hard.

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These were sooooo good! Ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, chives, parsley, shallots (which I omitted the second time – too strong), dipped in egg and panko breadcrumbs.

So naturally I’ve been on a cooking kick lately. Which, except for the times when the kids are driving me “flipping bananas” (a term I once used with them out of exasperation that they now think it’s some kind of funny trick one does with a banana), has been enjoyable.

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I’ve made three quiches (two with chard as the main ingredient, one with cabbage), roasted corn and beet salad, peach cobbler, garlic scape pesto, gazpacho, stuffed squash blossoms, grilled patty pan squash with chimichurri sauce and a multitude of tossed salads.

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Many of these were first-time dishes for me, so it’s been fun figuring out how to tweak the recipes to my liking.

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Also, oh my gosh if you’ve ever tried to photograph food, you know what a pain it is. Most of the time my photos make the food look unappetizing, lacking color and texture. I’ve been experimenting with the best ways (time of day, lighting, backgrounds) to photograph food, which has been a nice different way to get my creative juices flowing – always a good thing. Happy summer eating, everyone!

The Garden Detroit

I’ve been so crazy busy the last couple of months. There’s lots I’ve been meaning to blog about, but just can’t carve out the time. Although I’m finally sitting down (figuratively, since I always type standing up in the kitchen) to write about the Garden.

I’d been looking for a non-profit group to work with, specifically something garden or literacy-related, but everything I came across had too many hurdles to jump (must take x amount of classes, must be available at such and such a time) or was too far away or a little sketchy of a neighborhood.

So it was very serendipitous the day I met Tom, one of the Garden founders, at Trader Joe’s. I happened to be chatting with one of the staff there about growing vegetables this year (he asked me what my summer plans were). Tom heard the word “garden” and started talking to me about The Garden Detroit, an urban farm in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, literally blocks from Grosse Pointe. I was intrigued.

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I visited Tom and his partner Nancy (co-owner of the Garden) the very next day and knew pretty quickly that I wanted to be a part of it. I started helping out several days a week, which was easy to do while the girls were in school. Now that it’s summertime, it’s harder to get away. I have a sitter a couple times a week, so I usually use that time to escape to the Garden. Which is proof how much I love it. I am paying someone so I can volunteer at the Garden. Oy.

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Of course Garden gives back to me. Some days it’s more physical than others, but it’s always a stress reliever. And I’ve met a handful of interesting, diverse people, which is so refreshing after two years of living in suburbia. Plus there is all that fresh produce I get to take home  for my labor, and sometimes flowers (the Garden also run a cut-flower farm in the neighborhood). And I’m learning so much about agriculture, organic gardening, Detroit (community, politics) and about working for a non-profit.

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I started an Instagram account for the Garden. User name @thegardendetroit . So many beautiful colors and interesting shapes to photograph. I am helping them also with their website, which should be up and running very soon! I will send the URL when it’s ready.

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When I’m out there, I often think of my Grandpa Longboy (coincidentally, longboy in Ilocano, a Filipino dialect, is a type of plum tree) when I’m planting vegetables or weeding or watering. He worked in the pineapple fields in Hawaii as a means to bring his family to a land of more opportunity and a better life.

These photos aren’t the best quality, but the only ones my Hawaii family could find on short notice. They were taken closer to the end of his life, as is apparent, but also shows that he was in his garden as much as possible, even as he aged.

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By the time I came around, he was known in the neighborhood and among family and friends for his green thumb. Before we built a house on it, he had a plot of land that he used as a vegetable garden and I remember him spending most of his free time there.

He was sun-drying tomatoes before it was hip, coercing people to taste his super hot chili peppers (then laughing at their reaction), making ginger and rice tea whenever I got sick, putting aloe on my burns and bites and constantly touting the health benefits of coconut water. None of this really sunk in, but it’s coming back to me in pieces.

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Last week I was voted in as a member of the board. I’m excited to be a part of this organization and excited to be a part of the revitalization of Detroit.

 

The June List – 2016

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So wow. June is over. How in the world.

1)  Summer is upon us. The photo above says it all. Lord have mercy.

2)  Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE summer and in Michigan we actually HAVE a summer which is so awesome because, as I remind people often, San Francisco summers are fuh-reez-ing. I can do hot all day long.

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3)  Here’s a little corner in Grosse Pointe over the course of two months. In June, everything is in full bloom. Not as exciting as the first signs of spring, but in summer, you can sit back and settle in for a bit.

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4)  To celebrate summer’s arrival, I made strawberry shortcakes for dinner. This was something Grandma Lucy in upstate New York used to do once in a while on hot summer days (except with a side of corn on the cob, not green beans).  I only had wheat flour, which isn’t nearly as good (and even with white flour, never as good as Grandma’s), but it was still yummy. Will do it again soon.

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5)  I’ve been spending a lot of my free time (HA-ha, what even is that!?) at the Garden Detroit urban farm (which I started writing about and mean to post before this one, but alas) that my own yard/garden has been somewhat neglected. I did get around to taking care of some of our pest issues with this nifty chemical alternative – live nematodes.

Except that I made my husband spray them all over the yard because of the creepy factor. Seven million invisible alive organisms that bury into the soil and hunt down bad bugs? Yes but no.

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6)  Speaking of the urban farm, our CSA share/weekly box of produce started this month. We got the strawberries from another farm, but the rest came from our harvest. Lettuce and kale for days.

I hadn’t ever used garlic scapes before (the curly things). They are the flower bud of the garlic plant and taste just like garlic and slightly more mild, but only just. I found a fantastic pesto recipe online that pairs scapes and pistachios with the other usual ingredients – so good!

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7)  I’m still taking photos for the farm’s Instagram account, and if you haven’t followed me there already, you can find me at screen name @thegardendetroit or click here for the link.

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8)  The yearly influx of fish flies came upon us starting a couple weeks ago. I think they are nearly gone, but ick. Super nasty and stinky. The girls love playing with them, though, which includes putting them on different parts of their bodies. And mine. Sigh.

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9)  For Father’s Day we decided on a picnic at the park. A friend of mine told me you can “reserve” a spot early in the morning (and no one will take or move your stuff!) so I decided to try it. At 7:15 am, there were already several tables set up, but I was still able to grab a nice spot. Small town win.

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10)  Summer nights are the best and my husband and I were able to escape one evening (thank you, Leslie!) for a date at the Yacht Club. After dinner we sat outside at the gazebo, had drinks and watched the sky change as the sun went down. A perfect night.

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11)  I’ve totally slacked off in the exercise department. Yoga classes have stopped for the summer and it’s been too hot to run (unless I want to get up at 5 in the morning, which I do not). As of a week ago, I am back at it, riding the exercise bike and doing minimal stretching. I don’t want to let all my hard work over the last few months go to waste (or to my waist, hehe). Up and at ’em.

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12)  There’s a health food shop in Grosse Pointe called the Sprout House. It’s been over a year since I got food from there, so when Tom (Garden owner) offered to buy lunch from there one day if I picked it up on my way to the Garden, I obliged. Their avocado sandwich is packed with avocados and there are also sundried tomatoes, cilantro and vegan chili mayonnaise. I’d forgotten how good they are.

I love Michigan summers so much. It almost (almost) keeps my San Francisco longings at bay. I hope you are able to take full advantage of your summer days and nights. Happy July, everyone!

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The May List – 2016

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May was an epic non-stop month. Here’s the scoop…

1) My big news is my involvement with a nonprofit urban farm called The Garden Detroit in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. I met one of the directors in Trader Joe’s and the very next day I was out visiting the farm.

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In addition to gardening/farming, I’ve operated an excavator…

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and started an Instagram account for the Garden (please follow @thegardendetroit )!

IMG_5614 (1024x1024)I’ve already learned so much in just a few short weeks. Too much to put in this list, so I will write an extended post soon.

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2) Last week someone put up this hammock on Lakeshore Drive. Is that even legal? Probably not, but it looked like a good idea and I don’t even really like hammocks.

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3)  One of the book group girls has a place up North at Walloon Lake and invited us all for a girls’ weekend. Only three of us were able to make it, but we still had a great time and yes, we did sit around and read one afternoon out on the deck! Girls gone wild.

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Although things did get a little crazy when Allison busted out the Chicken in a Biskit. Didn’t realize they still made these – don’t think I’ve seen them since elementary school. Even though I didn’t have any (MSG OMG!), I remember their distinct salty and chicken-y boullion cube taste. (Full disclosure – I did, however, indulge on a ridiculous amount of chips and french onion dip).

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We stopped at this little shop on the way (that Allison and I have spied but never been in, as popping into shops is not ideal when on family road trips). Among the little chachkie items, there was cute country-style furniture that was nicely priced.

The next day we drove into Petosky for dinner at Chandler’s and beforehand I was able to load up on my American Spoon supplies, namely their bloody Mary mix, my summer staple.

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4) Breaking news in Grosse Pointe! This excerpt from the police section made me do a double-take. I thought for a second they were talking about my kids. Nope, just a couple of 20-somethings, whew.

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5)  After multiple failed attempts over the last few years of trying to wear false eyelashes, I finally nailed it with some new glue and several YouTube tutorials. I even took a couple of selfies because I was feeling pretty awesome about my new look.

When I came downstairs, my seven-year-old exclaims, “Oooooh Mom! Your eyes are so dark…you look like a witch!” Alrighty then.

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6)  Our peas are growing! They’re so pretty with their little delicate tendrils, don’t you think? Our lettuce and green onions are slow-growing (not enough sun?) and our cilantro finally came up, which was a nice surprise as I thought Sam had displaced or eaten all the seeds.

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7)  We were given several varieties of tomato seedings from the Garden (just assume that when I capitalize Garden from now on, I’m talking about The Garden Detroit), which I planted in one of the last sunny spots left in our backyard. I built trellises out of sticks and kitchen twine, which I hope are tall enough and hold up.

Hoping the squirrels won’t eat them all. Thinking of putting some chicken wire around them but of course that isn’t as aesthetically pleasing. Will watch and see.

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8)  I also planted some lavender this month along our small wall in the back of the yard. They like well-drained soil, which I tried my best to create with sand and stones and a slight mound. Again, will have to watch and see.

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9)  Our littlest had her class picnic last week. The weather was perfect (a little on the hot side, but I am NOT complaining) and it was sweet to see her interacting with her classmates. She and her best friend were unsure about the water balloon game (this pic), so they watched on the sidelines before deciding to try it (they loved it!).

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10)  Our somewhat dilapidated birdbath (inherited by the previous homeowners) was bugging me (literally. Attracted more mosquitoes than birds), so with my husband’s help, I re-purposed it as a fairy garden.

I took the girls to Allemon’s to pick out plants for it, which I thought would be a fun project, which it was, although they were more interested in petting the garden statues (lions, dogs, bunnies) and touching the water fountains than picking out plants.

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11)  My neighbor gave me a wheelbarrow full of forget-me-nots from her garden. At least a third of our flower beds are now filled with plants from her garden! It’s quite sweet, really.

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12)  The end of May gave us some hot, hot, hot weather. And also bugs. The spiders are out, not quite in full force yet, and the mosquitoes and ants are definitely out. The girls try to catch the ants, although when they succeed they usually scream with fright and flail around. Silly girls.

I’m sure June will bring more silliness, hot weather and fun. Looking forward to it and to sharing some of it with you in the June List!

 

 

Ailanthus Tree – The Take-Down

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Last summer we had weeds. Not just any weeds but weeds that I eventually learned were coming from our super tall ailanthus tree. I did some research and sure enough, this tree is considered an invasive species in many states, including Michigan. One neglected weed grew to over six feet tall within a matter of weeks! Our neighbor pointed it out to me and it was promptly (although not without some difficulty) pulled up by me.

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The tree originates from China and was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1700s. It is called the “Tree of Heaven,” probably for the tall heights it can reach, but when you google it, other common names are “Tree from Hell” and “wonder-weed.”

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One interesting tidbit that I got from the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop (where I also got the above image), an organization that makes creates art/items out of ailanthus wood, is that these trees started popping up in post-industrial Detroit when home became abandoned. They say “the quantity and height of Tree of Heaven specimen functions as a signifier for how long a place might have been abandoned.”

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I would have loved to chop it down last year, but after receiving quotes from several companies, realized it was something we were going to have to save up for. It was first on my gardening to-do list this year.

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Our backyard doesn’t allow for larger equipment to come in, so the company we used had one guy climb and cut the tree, and then a bunch of other guys on the ground helped guide him and move out the debris. Large pieces came down with a series of ropes (vs. throwing them down on the ground, which did happen with smaller branches).

Considering what a huge tree it was, they were quite fast and efficient.

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The stump was ground with a machine, leaving us with a huge pile of wood chips, which I’ve been dispersing around the garden

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I was thrilled to say goodbye to the tree. We now have a bit more light and hopefully, a lot less weeds this summer.

Alas, our next door neighbor has an ailanthus tree in their yard and you can be sure that I will be keeping my eye out on that side of the yard to make sure it doesn’t start invading our property as well! Happy gardening.