Archive for May, 2012

Garlic Scapes and Pasta Primavera

Pigtail-like Garlic Scapes

Pigtail-like Garlic Scapes

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Yesterday I saw that my garlic had started sending up its scapes, those whimsical pigtails that eventually open as the garlic flowers.  These need to be removed if you want to achieve the maximum sized garlic head but don’t throw them on the compost pile.  They have a delicate garlic flavor perfect for stir fries and Pasta Primavera.

Curliques of Flavor, all good to eat.

Curliques of Flavor, all good to eat.

Pasta Primavera is all about seasonality (Primavera=Italian for Spring).  I still have asparagus and my edible podded peas (Sugar Snaps) are just beginning, so with the garlic scapes, I had enough  for the dish.  I like to add sweet red peppers for extra color.  You can make fresh vegetable pasta dishes all summer long.  The vegetables available seem to marry naturally and the combinations are limitless.  For example you might choose yellow squash, zucchini and green beans for July and cauliflower, peppers and cherry tomatoes for August.  I begin with a base of mushrooms and onion which I saute in olive oil while the pasta water is heating.  When the mushrooms and onions are done, I add about 1/4 tsp. of red pepper seeds.  When the pasta water comes to a boil, add the cut up fresh vegetables saving the most delicate for last and scoop them out just as they begin to soften.  Timing depends on the vegetable, the sugar snap peas take only 30 seconds, the asparagus tips about a minute and the garlic scapes, red peppers and asparagus stems maybe 2 minutes.  Green vegetables will turn bright green when they reach the right point.  When they are done, set them aside.  They will continue cooking, so if you left them in the pasta water a little too long, they might be overcooked.  In this case you should put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.  I like to use Capellini (Angel Hair) for this dish.

Vegetables, All Sliced and Ready

Vegetables, All Sliced and Ready

There are several options for sauces, the ingredients for which are added to the cooked mushroom/onion mixture and reduced to a sauce thickness.  Traditional is heavy cream    In midsummer when the tomatoes are burgeoning, a light fresh tomato sauce is nice but for these delicate spring vegetables I like to keep it light using chicken broth, white wine and a spoonful of the boiling pasta water.   Add the chosen sauce ingredients and reduce them while the pasta is cooking.  When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the sauce mixture, turning to coat well, then add the vegetables.  Let them cook together a minute or two so the pasta takes up some of the sauce.  Fresh herbs sprinkled over the top complete the dish.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.  You can add meat if you wish; cubed chicken, ham or prosciutto go well (I used chopped sandwich ham this time as I had no prosciutto).  These are added when you cook the mushrooms.  This dish is quick and easy.  It can be completed in little more than the time it takes to boil the pasta water.

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Hairy Bittercress: There’s a New Weed in Town

Bittercress plant

Bittercress plant

Well, maybe not new, but new to me.  This weed has cropped up everywhere this spring.  I sent photos off to our Agricultural Experiment Station for identification and received a reply from a technician there who Identified it as Hairy Bittercress  (Cardamine hirsuta)  She wrote: “Samples of Hairy Bittercress have been submitted from lawns and gardens throughout the state this spring; apparently the  environmental conditions since last fall  have been  favorable for  high levels of seed germination and plant survival.”

Bittercress seed pod

Bittercress seed pod

This plant is nasty.  It’s a little prickly when you pull it out and the exploding seed capsules shoot its many seeds out ten feet from the mother plant.  Pull it when you see it!

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Hollyhocks: In Memory of my Brother

Hollyhocks Last Year

Hollyhocks Last Year

My brother loved hollyhocks.  He had a corner garden of them at his house, and when they were at their peak, they were lovely enough to stop traffic.  He was especially fond of the old-fashioned single flowered type, the ones that have eight foot stalks.  I think his enjoyment began when we visited Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals to see a recreation

So Far, So Good This Year

So Far, So Good This Year

of the poet  Celia Thaxter’s garden.  We both loved her book “An Island Garden” which had been written about her garden and had been illustrated by the American Impressionist Childe Hassam.  The hollyhocks were the focal point of this garden, stately anchors for the riot of color below.  My brother died in 2002 and his widow gave me seeds from his hollyhocks for Christmas that year.  Ever since I have grown them in my garden in his memory.  I have to grow them in the protected vegetable garden as the deer love them too.  This year, I’m happy to say that the hollyhocks look very happy and healthy.  I’ve tried extra hard to remove all the fallen leaves to prevent the fungus disease called blister rust from spreading.  I also water them from the bottom and mulch them well.  Experts say infected plants should be removed and destroyed, but of course I couldn’t do that.  I only had it one year and I think I’ve defeated it at last.  My brother would be proud of me.

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GARDEN UPDATE

My Second Sowing of Lettuce is Nearly Ready

My Second Sowing of Lettuce is Nearly Ready

Spring is well along now and most everything is planted.  I’m going to delay putting in my eggplants in an attempt to lessen damage from flea beetles and I plan to uproot all the volunteer potatoes and trench them where they can grow out of the way of all the vegetables they are now crowding.

The Sugar Snap Peas are Flowering

The Sugar Snap Peas are Flowering

The sugar snap peas are flowering and it will be about a week before we have our first stir-fry of the season.  My second sowing of lettuce is nearly ready.  This time I planted a speckled Romaine type called Flashy Troutback, a red-tinged loose head type called Merveille de Quatre Saisons and a green Romaine type called Little Gem.  I will begin to harvest the heads of my first sowing.  Up until now I have only taken the outside leaves and left the heads in the ground where they keep producing more leaves.  The onion plants are standing upright and the broccoli have tripled in size since they were transplanted.

The Onion Plants are Upright

The Onion Plants are Upright

The Broccoli Plants Have Tripled in Size

The Broccoli Plants Have Tripled in Size

The parsnip seeds have germinated.  This is something I await anxiously as they take a long time (up to three weeks) and need to be kept moist until they sprout so sprouting is far from a sure thing.  I’ve decided to treat myself to some new tomato cages.  I’ve used the old ones for 35 years and they are no longer serviceable.   I almost put my eye out yesterday with one of the broken pieces of wire.  Even this frugal Yankee can’t have that.

Danger Lurks in the Tomato cages.  I almost put my eye out on the rusty wires.

Danger Lurks in the Tomato cages. I almost put my eye out on the rusty wires.

The Parsnips have Germinated

The Parsnips have Germinated

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My Mother’s Day Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler, photo by AJ Hand ©

Cerulean Warbler, photo by AJ Hand ©

I had my Sunday all planned.  I was going up to that quintessential spring warbler hotspot, River Road in Kent, Connecticut.  This was to be with friends in the Western Connecticut Bird Club and I had high hopes of finally seeing a Cerulean Warbler, a bird that had heretofore eluded me.  A son called, reminding me that Sunday was Mother’s Day and he invited us over for a celebratory brunch.  I accepted, of course.  Any opportunity to receive appreciation from one’s children should not be cast aside lightly.  I had a meeting that evening, and while I was there, my husband called said son and explained the situation.  All agreed, it was my day, and if I wanted to go birding, I should go.  Perhaps we could get together later in the day.  A friend who is a superb bird photographer, sent me the terrific photo (© AJ Hand) above via e-mail, just in case I didn’t get to see the Cerulean.

I drove up with my husband and two other birding friends, reviewing warbler songs on tape, just as a refresher.  The River Road is perfect for birding, part of the Appalachian Trail, it runs along the bank of the Housatonic River for about 5 miles and is nestled against the ridge of the Taconic Mountains, providing ample shelter and food for migrating and nesting warblers.  The Cerulean Warbler nests here.  This warbler’s population is in serious decline with about 560,000 individuals remaining.  This decline is thought to be due to loss of habitat, especially on their wintering grounds in northern South America where the forest habitat they favor is being cut for coffee and  coca production for the illegal drug trade.  It is being considered for endangered species listing.  They nest and usually forage for insects high in the canopy so seeing them isn’t easy.

We began our walk at the northern end of the road, stopping for great views of many birds, American Redstarts, Veerys, Chestnut Sided Warblers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks among them.  After about a mile we began hearing the Cerulean singing his distinctive song, a series of rising notes ending with a buzzy trill.  We located him, not getting great looks and after a while the group left.  My husband and I stayed behind, and casting aside fear of Lyme Disease from deer ticks, we plunged off into the brush toward the river, following the song.  We located three of four in an oak tree and I got better looks, just enough to claim I had seen the bird.  As we returned to the group near the parking area, our leader called “We just had one about thirty feet away!”  fortunately the bird returned and I got really good looks.  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

The River Road Location Where We Saw the Cerulean Warbler

The River Road Location Where We Saw the Cerulean Warbler

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Exbury Azalea

In All Her Glory

In All Her Glory

I am gradually replacing our alien landscape plants (e.g., Asian broad leaf rhododendrons, Norway Maples, the dreaded invasives like Japanese Barberries and Winged Euonymous ) with bird friendly, deer resistant, low maintenance, attractive native plants.  One plant that remains in the native plantings near the driveway isn’t really bird friendly as there are no seeds or fruit that seem to attract the birds, but it is so lovely each spring I could never bear to part with it.  It is a hybrid of native deciduous azaleas from the Carolinas so I rationalize that it belongs.

This hybrid originated from seeds sent to England by John Bartram in 1734.  It went through several plant hybridizers who developed what is known as the Knaphill varieties before ending up with Baron Rothschild at his estate, Exbury, in Southampton, England.  The Baron worked with these varieties from 1922 through the period of the Second World War when the Exbury Azaleas were finally introduced to the public.  I planted this soon after we moved to our house 37 years ago and have moved it from a much shadier spot to this location where it is very happy.  No need to rationalize, just enjoy!

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Red-Shouldered Hawk on Our Cupola

The Red-Shouldered Hawk on the Cupola

The Red-Shouldered Hawk on the Cupola

Yesterday morning I arose a little later than usual as it was raining and there would be no bird banding.  I opened the curtain beside my bed and was delighted to see a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on top of the barn cupola.  They are welcome residents in our neighborhood, often sitting on my garden fence in hopes of scoring a vole for breakfast.  Since voles moved in three years ago, it has been a pitched battle for me to save my vegetables from the voles voracious appetites.  Voles can have up to a dozen vole babies every 21 days and the females can reach sexual maturity at three weeks of age.  Fortunately voles are highly sought after by predators and the Hawks and Owls help keep the population down.  We know this by the pellets they cough up around the yard as they are always full of vole fur.  “Our” hawk was soaking wet and was being dive-bombed by a pair of crows.

Hawk Right After an Attack by Crows

Hawk Right After an Attack by Crows

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