March 28, 2011

Last weekend, Jeff and Dawn came to visit me. They were my Spring Break. They bought me lots of great meals and ice cream and cookies and cinnamon rolls. We went on a run together. When the rain canceled our hike, we saw an afternoon movie (the height of relaxation). They brought lots of peanut butter and flour from the (Amish) Country Variety Store outside of Kirksville. There was even an anti-UFO-censorship convention in town; we literally had to tackle Jeff to keep him from buying himself a ticket and abandoning us for the entire weekend. They also took me to Target and the Borders clearance sale. Who needs Cabo when you’ve got parents?

We went to Wheatfields for lunch one day, where I had a vegetable curry empanada. I was inspired. Actually, I was inspired a few months ago when I saw a friend order a Wheatfields empanada. I vowed to make them, but then decided that I should actually try one myself before attempting replication.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have a lot of green onions from the garden. At first, I thought the guy who grew them was just lazy, allowing the herbs and onions in his plot to just grow and grow and take over. Then I met him one day and learned that he used all that extra stuff to keep people from taking the other vegetables he has hidden in his plot, the stuff you can’t see because of the overgrown herbs and onions. These onions are technically Egyptian walking onions (“walking” because they do this cool thing where they fall over after fully grown), but I’ve been using them like green onions. This seems to work well. I invited some friends over for dinner Wednesday night, promising either Missouri sweet potato and garden-fresh onion empanadas or my fallback, quiche (also sweet potato and onion), depending on how I felt.

Luckily, I woke up feeling adventurous on Tuesday, so after working on an annotated bibliography and taking a walk downtown, I made the dough for the empanadas. It actually took me awhile to find a dough recipe. There are hundreds of empanada recipes, but most of them talk about already made or prepackaged dough and then give instructions for making the empanada filling. I didn’t need help figuring out what to put in the empanadas…I’m pretty confident in my ability to mix things together that taste good. The dough was what I needed help with. Finally, I found one that seemed like it would work (http://latinfood.about.com/od/appetizersandsnacks/r/empanada_dough.htm). I made the dough, and as the instructions indicated, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I started cooking the sweet potatoes and onions about two hours before my dinner guests were to arrive. This was a good idea. Making the stuff to go inside was no problem: sweet potatoes + onions + butter + garlic cloves + spices I’ve forgotten + mozzarella cheese. The dough, however, was another story. When I started rolling it out, I missed Alyssa, baker extraordinaire, more than ever. I struggled through 4 empanadas, before realizing that adding water made the dough a lot more workable.

After over an hour of rolling and filling and sealing, I had 11 empanadas and just enough time to bake them. Whew. I was alone in the apartment, but I imagine it looked something like an episode of a cooking show that culminates in a major competition, the contestant untying her apron, washing her hands, and wiping the sweat from her brow moments before the judges enter the room.

I can’t say that my empanadas were as pretty as the one I had at Wheatfields (note the holes and uneven edges). Nor can I say that the crust of my empanadas was as flaky. They were a good start, though. I did get rave reviews from my guests, but these guests were some of my favorite, most supportive friends.

Perhaps a different dough recipe. More practice. More skill with a rolling pin. More dinner parties.


And We’re Back!

March 24, 2011

I worked in the garden for the first time last weekend. As the weather’s been getting warmer, I’ve been going to the garden more frequently, but until now, there hasn’t been a whole lot to do. Even I can only putter around the unkempt beds imagining what will eventually be there for so long. But last Sunday, the gardeners working in the communal plot got together to garden for the second time (I was in an airport on the first work day. Normally I would count this experience as less interesting than the garden, but with the trippy tunnel connecting the terminals in the Detroit airport and the exceptional people watching, I consider my layover in Detroit at least as interesting as the garden. Does the U of Michigan baseball team dress alike while traveling? Are sweatpants cut into shorts + a suit jacket appropriate airport attire? Observation says yes.).

I won’t tell you that I’m excited about the new gardening season. I have a gardening blog. A friend recently bought me a gardening Moleskin journal. My best friend sent me a link to an article from the NY Times today about heirloom seeds. People get that I like gardening.

I will tell you what’s cool about my second year in the Lawrence Community Garden, though. It’s transforming into a completely new garden. While there are a few returning members, we’ve got quite a few new gardeners. New faces, new ideas, new interests, new resources. Some people are talking about growing eggplant, one of many things I’ve never grown. One guy is going to start seedlings in the lab at work; from what I can gather, he studies botany. One woman claims to kill everything she touches (her goal is to touch all of the weeds); I’m convinced she can grow something. Two of my favorite Truman-ites have started gardening, too. Seeing Luke and Clare there makes the Sunday work time even better.

After only two weeks, the communal plot is already a different plot. Spinach, kale, and other greens are sprouting up. Rachael and Michael (the community garden leaders/organizers) planted about 80 garlic cloves that should be ready in June. Where we had rows of tomatoes and cucumbers last summer, we’ve planted potatoes and prepared another row for something else. In one particularly troublesome area, we fought weeds all last year; this year, we’ve cleaned that spot up, built a trellis, and planted peas. We spread straw over seedlings to help hide them from birds, etc and to protect them from rain. We watered. We dug onions, lots of onions.

I like these people. They smile. They are excited about trying new things. There’s positive energy. I like the communal garden, and Sunday is only a few days away.


March 8, 2011

Two weeks ago, I went to an exciting event: The Kaw Valley Seeds Project Fair. Who plans and attends a garden-related event on a snowy/icy weekend in the beginning of March? Probably the same people who hoe the area surrounding their tomato plants when it’s over 100 degrees outside. So, me. And people like me. The temperature was about 30 degrees, and instead of the “wintry mix” in the days leading up to the seed fair, there was a nice misty-rain thing happening. We milled around in the snow all day long, trading seeds and listening to seminars about everything from community gardens to growing garlic to grafting fruit trees. I kid. We were in a building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Officemate Clare and I did have to walk through the misty-rain stuff from our cars to the building, though.

The Kaw Valley Seeds Project is cool. It essentially encourages people to save seeds from their gardens to use for the next year(s) rather than buying new seeds. Some of the project’s participants are into heirloom seeds, seeds that have been used for generations, seeds that grow well in Kansas. Though I had heard about the Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/) before, it always seemed like some serious secret club (think the Freemasons of Gardening) that I probably didn’t have the credentials (or secrecy) to join.

This event was extremely inviting, though, not at all like the Freemasons. I did not have to make any blood pacts or vow to keep the source of my heirloom spinach a secret. The main focus of the room was the seed trading area in the middle. The different seeds were arranged by type (ie greens, herbs, flowers, squash). There were small manila envelopes and pens so that after getting seeds, people could write down and remember what they’d picked up. They called it “trading,” which worried me at first (I have no heirloom seeds to trade), but really, the seeds were for trading or taking. I took. The rest of the room was filled with a miniature farmer’s market. Though I had no money (and had already bought too many vegetables at the grocery story), I enjoyed walking through the rows, a small glimpse of summer. There was also a stationary bike doing something with corn (though Clare and I weren’t sure what), an exhibit with rocks and dried corn cobs, free organic popcorn, and a table where people were playing with dirt. When we approached the table, I realized that all the people were actually children (a mistake I rarely make), so Clare said I probably shouldn’t roll the dirt into balls like everyone else. I got seeds–heirloom spinach, chard, okra, and zinnias (though I am skeptical of the zinnias…they just look like dried flowers).

This weekend, I will take a break from Kansas for Hooksett, New Hampshire. I am presenting at a conference: “The Writing Center as a Community Garden.” Of course I submitted a proposal; don’t act surprised. My presentation title includes the word “weed.” I will totally geek out this weekend. I will eat up all the garden metaphors. I will talk to people about gardening, even though it’s likely that many of them don’t garden. I might also learn about maple syrup.

Then I will come back to Kansas, and spring will be so close, and Spring Break, even closer. And Amelia and I will get started on this list. And we will have a reason to go to the garden every other day, even every day if we want.