Saturday, September 10, 2011

Diet Changes for a Master Gardener

       During the basic Master Gardener class we were told that as MGs we should try new (to us) plant varieties so we can better advise others.  Experimentation in vegetable gardening has led naturally to experimentation in the use of the produce, and, for me, changes in what I eat.
Second year asparagus plants.
       My first, pre-MG, attempt at raising asparagus resulted in three spears, which I cut and cooked that same evening for my husband.  He rhapsodized about their flavor and urged me to try some of the next harvest.  Unfortunately, there was no next harvest because I'd cut the first spears before the plant was established.  Oops.  I now have three asparagus beds.  One is located in the apple guild.  These plants are this year's grown-from-seed babies.  I have yet to see if they'll thrive under the less-than-ideal conditions out there, but asparagus is a weed so it should be pretty even if not particularly productive. The second bed is last year's from-seed plants.  I expect this patch to produce my main crop, which I can start harvesting next year.  The third bed consists of transplanted roots from survivors of my mother-in-law's lost patch, which hadn't been cultivated in decades.  The spears from this were huge and we ate some this year.  I'd never had fresh asparagus and disliked what I had tasted.  Days old spears from the store don't come close to the wonderful taste of of fresh asparagus.  Fresh asparagus is definitely an addition to my diet.
       This spring I caught part of a Dr. Oz show where the doctor said that everyone should eat sweet potato every day because it's sooo good for you.  My experience with sweet potatoes had been canned stuff drenched in butter and brown sugar and baked for Thanksgiving.  Yes, it was good, but eat it every day?  There had to be other ways to fix it, so I went looking on the internet, chose some recipes, purchased some sweet potatoes at an organic market, and experimented.  I was surprised at the goodness of oven-baked sweet potato fries.  So, okay, I need to grow sweet potatoes.  I discovered I could grow them here in Michigan if I start them early in the spring in the house (see post of sweet potatoes for details).  Unlike asparagus, which is best really fresh, sweet potato flavor improves with curing.  I haven't even dug up my sweet potatoes yet to see what sort of crop I have, and when I do dig them, I'll have to wait weeks before I can savor their flavor.
       I've always liked the idea of soup more than the actuality; that is, soup sounds great, but I rarely actually ate it.  That's changed.  Last year's bumper tomato crop demanded more options for using the bounty.  I tried a soup recipe I got through the Ingham County Extension office.  I no longer buy the canned stuff.  In addition, I was inspired to look for other freezable homemade soups.  I made sweet carrot soup and split pea soup.  These are wonderful side dishes during a cold winter day.  The split pea soup is a meal all by itself.
Homemade with Homegrown Wheat
 Although I've made my own bread for years, only recently have I started using some home-ground flour along with unbleached store-bought.  This year I even grew a few pounds of wheat.  What a rush to say I made my bread from scratch--starting with planting the seeds!  But whether homegrown or purchased, wheat freshly ground adds more flavor, nutrients and texture to bread.  Cornbread made from fresh homegrown, home ground meal is another treat.  You can use any corn (field, Indian, sweet), but we like it best made from sweet corn.
       In my search for new ways to use my produce, I've tried a variety of jam and salsa recipes.  Last fall I made tomato jam.  My thought was that the jam would substitute for the tomato in BLT's when fresh was no longer available.  I learned that nothing substitutes for that juicy, tart, fresh tomato in a BLT, but the jam makes a tasty substitute for Miracle Whip in some sandwiches. This year I have an abundance of carrots so I tried a carrot cake jam.  Oh, this is good!  Also a carrot pepper salsa.  I've never been a salsa fan, but I could devour a half pint of this for lunch.  I made peach salsa too, after canning half a bushel of this fruit.
       Half a bushel may not be enough.  Nothing beats canned peaches for good eating.  Last year's peach crop was rotten at the core.  The ones I bought this year are perfect.  My husband wants me to put up more.  I love them with vanilla yogurt, or in a salad with cottage cheese.  For salads, I've been buying French dressing, but I want to get away from the high fructose corn syrup and artificial food colorings, so I've canned a tomato soup base for a homemade recipe I found on line, except that that recipe's first ingredient was store-bought canned soup.  Not around here; not anymore.
       I've grown a few herbs for years, but haven't really gotten into the habit of using them.  Oh, sure, I've added oregano and parsley to my homemade pizza sauce, but what to do with some of my other herbs?  I've just discovered basil butter, a mix of 3 cups chopped basil, half a cup of butter, and two teaspoons lemon juice.  The other night I poured some olive oil into a frying pan, added a chunk of frozen basil butter, then some diced garlic.  I cooked this gently for a few minutes, then added spaghetti and served with popcorn shrimp.  That was a total of fifteen minutes prep time.  My husband and I both thought this was a great combination.  I think it will be even better with unbreaded shrimp sauteed with the basil butter.  It seems to me that this basil butter is a great base for all sorts of pesto dishes.  I'd never served spaghetti with anything besides a traditional tomato-based sauce so this was a terrific discovery.
       About that homemade pizza:  Last year I bought a frozen pizza kit from my daughter for a fundraiser for her church.  Having everything ready in the freezer for preparing pizza was just too convenient.  I looked for a way to have this with homemade crust.  I had tried unsuccessfully many times to freeze crust.  I found that all I had to do was bake the crust for three or four minutes at 450 degrees before freezing it.  So simple, and when the grandchildren visit, it's a simple matter to give them each a pizza crust suitable to their appetite and let them make their own pizza with all-homegrown ingredients.  Works for me too whenever I want a fast meal.   
       I won't claim that gardening is "fun."  This is such an overworked word.  It's "satisfying" and, it appears, nutritionally smart for me.  I looking forward to more changes in my diet as I learn more about the food I grow.


1 comment:

  1. Good to hear your diet is improving. I use a fair amount of herbs in my cooking so you probably can find other uses for herbs on the recipes on my blog.