Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Southern Urban Homesteader Takes a Holiday

No post this week, my friends. I’m going on a little holiday! In the meantime, I leave you with this promise of sweet things to come . . .

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Filed under Community and Citizenship

Stalking the Feral Asparagus

My daily walk to work takes me past a rarity here in Georgia’s most densely populated city—an open lot in a residential neighborhood. There’s a house there, but it sits almost invisible way back off the street, and the expanse before it could reasonably accommodate another house entirely. It won’t surprise me at all when the lot is split and construction starts.

The ancient one

But for now, the lot is the province of the wild and green, though someone at some point had a vegetable garden there. I know this because every spring about this time, a few stalks of asparagus shoot up. It’s nestled amidst a thick, ancient border of monkey grass crammed up against the sidewalk, but there it is, a persistent perennial that has thrived despite what I am guessing is decades of neglect. I like to think of it not as Euell Gibbons’s “wild asparagus,” but more of a feral asparagus—once domesticated, now a resourceful, clever survivor.

Some of the gardening smarty-pants say asparagus can’t really be grown in Georgia. It’s too hot here, too humid. The plants will be too slender, the harvest season too short. But my friend the feral asparagus and I, we know better. For years I have waited to see that perfectly formed stalk shoot up. And for years I have been tempted to harvest it when I know it has reached its tender, crisp perfection and stand there on the sidewalk and eat it raw. But I’m more curious than hungry. I want to see what it will do—how tall it will grow, how much it will fern out, whether the red berries will form then later turn yellow, whether anyone else will notice that that’s an asparagus, for crying out loud.

Skinny leg and all

The feral asparagus inspired me, so I decided last year to try to grow some for myself. It made sense to me that one should plant the crowns in the fall, to give them a cool-season chance to muster up their energy in the earth before the first big show in April. So last September, I did my level best to find some. I googled, emailed, called around, but there were no crowns to be had in the autumn. I even received a stern email lecture from one source about how no asparagus crown grower in his or her right mind would ever sell in the fall. So I waited, chastened, until February, when the seed catalogs arrived, and I ordered myself a batch of twenty-five Jersey Knights.

They arrived in March, looking like a tangle of squid that had been beached for a few days. I got seventeen of them into the ground (the rest I gave away to neighbors) in a couple of choice locations with just enough sun and loamy, well-drained soil. I dosed them with heaps of good compost and long, regular drinks of water.

The first skinny leg poked through about ten days later. It is so hard to resist harvest, but asparagus needs time. A few years of it, in fact. So once again, I find myself waiting and watching the asparagus grow.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to pay my daily respects to my feral friend, with gratitude for the lesson in what can be done.

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Filed under Foraging, Gardening

Cilantro Mountain

What do you do with a mountain of cilantro?

First, you make pesto (with some fresh chives, mint, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, salt, pepper, and lime juice). Some of this you will freeze in an ice-cube tray.

Then you make an enormous batch of guacamole.

Then you get creative, and you swirl the cilantro pesto into some homemade bread. It works beautifully.

Yet you’re still left with half a mountain of pesto and more to come. Other ideas?

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Filed under Feasting, Putting Up

Starting With What You Have: Stir-Fry with Udon Noodles

This week I collected the last bits of broccoli from my fall plants and then pulled them out of the ground for compost. It wasn’t enough for a major broccoli project (a broject?), but combined with some other ingredients I had on hand, plus some particularly good garden bounty, they wound up in a delightful lunch today.

I’ve had a spectacular cilantro crop this spring—a result of my late summer planting. I’ve had harvest after harvest this month (and if anyone has any ideas for preserving cilantro, let’s hear it!). Also have been pulling quite a few carrots lately.

There are some ingredients I just like to have around because they keep well and are easily combined with other things. These include some that I used today:

  • Pasta (in this case, udon noodles)
  • Extra-firm tofu
  • Raw cashews
  • Onions
  • Sesame oil
  • Peanut butter (in the sauce)
  • Limes

So here’s what I ended up doing today. I sliced a half an onion, the broccoli,  a carrot, and a cake of tofu. I also chopped up a massive quantity of cilantro.

I scrounged in the fridge until I found the leftover spicy peanut sauce I had made last week for another dish (this sauce was so easy and delicious and versatile that it wound up on a grilled pork chop a few days ago, too. I substituted chives for the scallions called for here because I have tons of chives growing right now).

While the udon noodles cooked for about eight minutes, I heated some sesame oil in my wok on very high heat and stir-fried the tofu until golden brown.

Gradually I added in the other veggies, starting with the onions, then the carrots, then the broccoli, then finally the cashews. I stir fried everything until just cooked through. Then I poured in the peanut sauce (it was just enough!).

That’s when things got crazy.

Instead of draining the pasta and just topping it with the vegetables in a bowl, I decided to stop the pasta al dente, drain but reserve about 1/4 cup of the liquid, and then mix the pasta into the veggies and sauce in the wok, along with the reserved pasta liquid. Everything simmered and sizzled for about 45 seconds, then I turned off the heat, threw in the cilantro,  squeezed 1/4 of a lime on top of everything, and pronounced it done.

I call it “A Wok Through the Garden with a Couple of Nuts.”

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Filed under Feasting, Gardening