All posts by Susie Middleton

An Indian Curry with Cauliflower, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Coconut Milk – And the Miracle of Chickpeas

Weeknight. Cooking. Strategy. Three words we all wrestle with, but that I hope will soon bring a smile to your face when you get a hold of Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals. Lately, with all the distractions, I barely noticed that the pub date for my fourth cookbook is sneaking up, and now we have just two months to go. (April 11—yay!)

I’m pretty darn excited, because I think this is the most useful cookbook I’ve written since Fast, Fresh & Green, and honestly, these days, useful is good. Useful is something we can wrap our heads around.

Heck, lately I’ve even realized that smarter cooking might be able to help us alleviate one problem in this country—food waste. (In American households, 27 million pounds of food a year gets tossed.) But I’ll offer some tips on that in a later blog.

Right now, I want to assure you that flavor comes first. Recipes that taste good and work well are the ones you will make again. When I can create great flavor, show a new technique, and offer a way to streamline weeknight cooking, I’m extra happy. Because I want you to cook more, enjoy cooking, and eat well.

So let’s talk about chickpeas—those incredibly versatile, protein-rich legumes that do it all. Despite the Ottolenghi-inspired elevation of chickpeas to a sexy star ingredient (very welcome stateside after many years of unfortunate mistreatment), I still have many friends who tell me they’re not crazy about chickpeas. I think this is because the texture, the liquid, and the flavor of canned chickpeas can be off-putting. Canned chickpeas can be a bit mushy and slippery, and some brands have a slight metallic or funky taste—or too much sodium. Doing a taste comparison of brands can go a long way towards eliminating some of these problems. I’ve found I really like Westbrae Natural Organic Garbanzos, so I stock up on them when I find them. And rinsing helps a lot, too.

It’s great to keep canned chickpeas around for convenience; I’d never suggest that you don’t. But I will tell you that of all the beans and legumes I cook and eat, chickpeas are the one I most frequently cook myself.

In fact, I toss a couple cups of dried chickpeas into a mixing bowl, cover with water, and stick in my fridge most Saturday nights. (That’s the overnight soak that people are fond of complaining about, when in reality it’s just a habit to form, and one that takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish.) At some point on Sunday, I drain them, put them in my pasta pot, cover with lots of water, add a bay leaf, a garlic clove, and maybe a sprig or two of thyme, bring to a simmer, and cook for about an hour. Then I add a little salt and continue cooking for 15 to 30 more minutes until the chickpeas are tender to the bite. (If I have to add more boiling water, I do.) I drain them, cool them, pop them in a storage container, refrigerate, and voila!–I  have chickpeas for the week. Very little hands-on cooking time for a big payoff.

Chickpeas that you cook yourself will not only have a better flavor and texture than canned ones, but they will keep longer as well—5 to 7 days in the fridge. For a vegetarian, having a protein like this already cooked and in the fridge cuts weeknight supper prep time down considerably.

And now those chickpeas are ready for their biggest trick—one that ordinary beans and lentils cannot perform: Browning. Yes, this is the real reason I love chickpeas so much: You can sauté or roast them until they take on a golden brown color and toasty, even nuttier, flavor. And you know, I love brown!! When I discovered that chickpeas could do this, I was ecstatic. Because the flavor is killer. The crunchy texture of roasted chickpeas is a fun bonus.

The good news is that you can sauté or roast either home-cooked or well-drained canned chickpeas. So if you’re new to vegetarian eating, look at it this way: If you’re making a quick weeknight stir-fry or sauté or braise, you can replace the shrimp, the chicken, or the beef with chickpeas. Chickpeas can also be part of a delicious hash, and they make a great base for quesadilla and burrito fillings. Sautéed and spiced chickpeas and veggies, along with some toasted nuts and fresh herbs, turn cooked whole grains (another great make-ahead) into a million different suppers. Marinated or dressed (don’t leave them rolling around naked and lonely), they turn a chopped or warm salad into a filling supper.

But enough already. I think at this point you’d just like a delicious recipe to try all this out, so here is a favorite Indian curry from the book. I think you’ll love it.

And I’ll be back in a couple weeks with another teaser recipe and more tips for weeknight vegetarian suppers to keep you excited about the book. And if you haven’t preordered your copy—or asked your independent bookstore to order some—please do. Click on this link.

Indian Curry with Chickpeas, Cauliflower, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Coconut Milk

One fall night I set out to cook a comforting Indian curry that would have all the things I love in it, starting with sautéed chickpeas and cauliflower and ending with a slightly creamy coconut-tomato sauce. In between, a mix of ginger, garlic, and curry spices (as well as fresh spinach) would provide backbone. I decided to use my handy stir-fry pan, because it’s great for sautéing and simmering. After a little chopping, I started cooking. Fifteen minutes later, I was so happy: I loved it! Leftovers were delicious, too. Be sure to use fresh curry powder. This dish is filling on its own, but you could serve it with rice or naan if you like.

Serves 2 to 3

3 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and dried (or about 1 1/3 cups cooked chickpeas)

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch

3 cups cauliflower florets (1- to 1½-inch pieces, cut so that most have a flat side)

1 cup sliced yellow onion (about 1 medium-large onion, cut lengthwise)

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1½ teaspoons Asian chili-garlic paste

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups packed baby spinach

½ cup canned crushed tomatoes

1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk (preferably organic), well stirred

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

 

In a large (12-inch) nonstick stir-fry pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chickpeas and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the chickpeas are golden and have some brown spots on them, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the chickpeas to a large plate.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the cauliflower and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir, cover, and cook, uncovering to stir occasionally, until the cauliflower pieces are browned in spots and have lost their whiteness (they will be softened but still crisp), about 5 minutes. (If the cauliflower is browning too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. If your pan does not have a lid, use a baking sheet or the bottom of a large skillet.) Transfer the cauliflower to the plate with the chickpeas.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, the onion, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions are browned in spots but haven’t lost all their stiffness, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chili-garlic paste, curry powder, brown sugar, and cumin. Stir well to combine, and fry the spices for 30 seconds. Add the spinach, tomatoes, and coconut milk and stir well to incorporate the spices with the liquids and to soften the spinach. Add the cooked cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the cilantro and remove the pan from the heat.

Serve hot or very warm in two or three bowls.

Recipe From Simple Green Suppers by Susie Middleton, © 2017 by Susie Middleton. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Photo of Indian Curry by Randi Baird © Randi Baird

Best Veggie Sides for Thanksgiving, Revisited!

DSC_2822_01Here I go again reposting–so sorry, but once again, no time to create some new recipes for you for Thanksgiving, and time is flying. (And,  of course, the new book recipes are TOP SECRET…just kidding, I’ll start posting a few of those as pub date nears.) Anyway, I thought you’d appreciate a reminder of some of these amazing veggie side dish recipes on sixburnersue, so here goes. So while, yes, you’ll recognize most on this list, if you’re like me, you may have forgotten some. Reminders aren’t all bad!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with dear friends and delicious food.

Okay, here are our favorites from past Thanksgivings.

1. Crispy Smashed Potatoes (photo above)

2. Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberry-Ginger Butter and Toasted Walnuts.

3. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Orange Butter Sauce

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4. Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Roasted Garlic

5. Thanksgiving Gratin of Butternut, Corn, Squash & Leeks

6. Potato Galette with Fresh Rosemary & Two Cheeses

RoastedBeetJewelsPg.2057. Roasted Beet Jewels with Cranberries, Pecans & Balsamic Butter

8. Roasted Turnips & Pears with a Rosemary Honey Drizzle

9. Potato Gratin with Gruyere, Thyme & Horseradish

10. Caramelized Turnips, Potatoes, & Carrots with Onions & Thyme

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Tart Art: Recipes for Sweet or Savory Rustic Tarts

DSC_0626I’ve been looking for a great excuse to repost this blog on rustic tarts. Well, it being the eve of you-know-what, I don’t thing I even have to mention why you might want to totally distract yourself with an incredibly delicious cooking project. (Perhaps you don’t have a TV or the internet in your kitchen.) But even if you don’t feel like cooking today or tomorrow, chances are that either a sweet or savory tart might fit perfectly into one of your holiday menus. So, Ta da! A repost of where to find directions to all my yummy rustic tart recipes.

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Sweet or savory, these open-faced pies can be everything from appetizer to dessert—and even breakfast. A couple years back, I wrote and photographed a story called “Tart Art” for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and now the recipes are all online. It’s a great place to go for my all-purpose, buttery, flaky dough recipe—and to find recipes for both my versatile fruit filling (apples, pears, or plums) and for two different savory fillings.

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The fruit fillings work for sweet rustic tarts that are as delicious for dessert as they are the next day for brunch or an easy leftover breakfast. And if you’ve got a copy of Fresh from the Farm on hand, you can find one of my favorite variations in the recipe for Little Pear Crostatas with Hazelnut Crisp Topping. (Rustic tarts go by the name crostata in Italy and galette in France.)

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The savory fillings I did for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine—Savory Cabbage, Apple & Cheddar and Savory Roasted Butternut, Pear, and Cranberry—are variations on the fillings I did for my tart chapter in The Fresh and Green Table. Not only are these savory tarts deeply flavored and satisfying (great with soup or salad), but they are a lot of fun to put together.

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For step by step assembling instructions, you’ll want to look back at the directions and the photos I included in a previous blog, which includes a link to one of the recipes from The Fresh & Green Table. (The Seven Treasure Roasted Winter Veggie Tart is also a favorite in The Fresh & Green Table.) And over on the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine website, you’ll see that I’ve given you options for dividing the dough into either two or four pieces to make two bigger or four smaller tarts.

So you’ve got options.

And when summer comes around (we can be hopeful, right?) don’t forget about my most favorite tart of all—the Roasted Tomato Rustic Tart in Fresh from the Farm!

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Simple Green Suppers Is Available for Pre-Order!

9781611803365My fourth cookbook, Simple Green Suppers, is now available for preorder (see links below). There, I’ve said it. Seems unreal, really, in many ways. First, that the whole selling and promotion thing gets started more than six months ahead of time. (The pub date is April 11, 2017.) Second, that it is actually happening—When I wrote my first cookbook, Fast, Fresh & Green, in 2010, I was pretty jazzed about that. Then came The Fresh & Green Table in 2012 and Fresh from the Farm in 2014. Meanwhile, I am farming and growing vegetables and, well, you’d think I’d get tired of vegetables. Not!

As some of you know, I also skipped over the line into full-time vegetarian eating a few years ago, so that gave me the ultimate fun challenge for a new book—how to cook vegetarian suppers every night.

Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals is the very delicious, very beautiful result of that challenge. (Sorry about the “very”s but I am as excited about this book as I was about Fast, Fresh, and Green, which I believe continues to sell well because it is useful. Simple Green Suppers is super-useful. And inspiring. It is being published by Roost Books after all, and they make beautiful books!! Plus, I collaborated with talented photographer Randi Baird on a monster-sized effort on the photos. Okay, I’ll stop.)

Though my mission has always been to make vegetables more accessible and appealing for all kinds of eaters, I don’t think this full-on vegetarian book will exclude anyone, as most of the recipes will appeal to non-vegetarians and part-time vegetarians, too. I’ve never been one to go in for fake foods and I’m also not particularly into soy-based meat substitutes, so the recipes are based on familiar ingredients, with plenty of exciting flavor boosts.

The premise is this: Think of one-dish veggie suppers as “Veggies + 1.” The “1” is a staple ingredient from your pantry or larder. The chapters are divided thus:

Noodles, Grains, Leaves, Toast, Eggs, Broth, Beans (and Legumes), Tortillas

Each chapter offers you lots of strategy about how to shop for, store, and cook with the best and most versatile of these items (and the flavors that go well with them.) Each chapter, in addition to multiple yummy recipes (there are 125 in the book), has versatile mini-recipes for little sauces and salsas, infused oils, dressings, toppings and more that can be used many different ways. I’m encouraging you to nudge yourself just a bit towards the make-ahead mindset. Because if you’ve got Quick Lemony Tahini Sauce or Spicy Peanut Sauce or Whipped Lemony Thyme Feta in the fridge, and/or a batch of cooked short-grain brown rice or chickpeas around, you can bring that broccoli or cauliflower or spinach home and make a delicious supper in no time, with a little support from your pantry.

Just to be clear, everything winds up in one bowl or on one plate or platter. Though I’m not a nutritionist, I have thought ahead about protein and a balance of flavors and textures so your one-dish recipe is a complete supper. Some suppers are heartier than others, and I admit that I don’t eat huge amounts of anything in one sitting anymore, so portions, while filling (and rest assured, cross-tested by real families!!) are not huge. But they can be flexible.

Here’s a sample list of recipe titles:

  • Crispy Tortillas with Watercress, Peas, Avocado, Sprouts and Smoky Chile Broth
  • Roasted Butternut “Smash” on Whole Wheat Toast with Cranberry Citrus Butter and Crispy Shallots
  • Grilled Naan Pizza with Quick-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Whipped Lemon-Thyme Feta, Cucumbers and Basil
  • Grilled Peach, Red Onion and Arugula Salad with Sungold Tomatoes and Grilled Croutons
  • Indian Curry with Chickpeas, Cauliflower, Spinach, Tomatoes and Coconut Milk
  • Autumn Farro Salad with Quick-Roasted Root Vegetables and Lemon-Sherry Dressing
  • Green Rice with Brussels Sprouts, Crispy Shiitakes, and Crunchy Pepitas
  • Spicy Egg Tacos with Salsa Verde, Sharp Cheddar and Pickled Veggies (cover recipe)
  • Yukon Gold Potato and Brussels Sprouts Hash with Parmesan Fried Egg
  • Red Quinoa and Baby Kale Salad with Sweet Potato Fries and Blackberry Dressing.
  • Stir-Fried Black Rice with Baby Bok Choy, Asparagus, Shiitakes, and Lemon-Miso Butter

Now I just have to say a word about pre-ordering. I know how easy it is to order on Amazon, and certainly for authors this seems to be a good thing, to a certain extent. The more pre-orders, the more your book shows up in rankings and searches, etc. But the more we order on Amazon, the less we contribute to the well-being of our independent bookstores and our local communities, and ultimately that’s not great for anyone, especially book authors. (Also, discounted books earn back advances at a slower rate.)

As you may know, I work part-time in an independent bookstore, Bunch of Grapes, so I am particularly interested in supporting independent bookstores. Our book buyer has already placed a generous order for copies of my book (this is a normal practice—ordering the books months in advance), but you could visit your own local bookstore and ask if they’d be willing to stock Simple Green Suppers, and you can also pre-order your book from a list of independent sources (including Powell’s bookstore and IndieBound.org) through my book’s distributor, Penguin Random House. So you have choices!

Click here to check out options listed on Penguin Random House’s site.

And Click here for the Amazon link.

But just so you know, pre-ordering is a good thing as it helps build buzz and in some cases might actually affect the numbers of the first print run. A book has to build momentum before publishing day arrives or it won’t be able to take off running. So thank you in advance.

And yes, you’ll be hearing more about Simple Green Suppers in the next few months!!

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Simple Green Suppers cover photo by Randi Baird. Food styling by Susie Middleton and Amy Miller.

The Fly-By Summer

IMG_0140IMG_0101It’s a strange summer. Slow in getting here, fast in passing. The tomatoes have barely started to ripen and already it is time to pull the onions out of the ground. The weather is confused—dripping hot one day, New England chilly the next night. It’s like summer and fall all at once. But I’m okay with that. I like fall, and I feel a bit disconnected from summer this year.

I can’t complain. Grace and magic and kindness and opportunity have conspired to give me a new farmette business with a little farm stand plunked fortuitously close to the road.

IMG_0127My fencing and irrigation and weed controls are working as planned, so everything (well, most everything) is thriving, and the whole darn thing is actually manageable.

IMG_0133The soil still needs a lot of improvement, so my yields are not what they could be. But the real conundrum is space. The 4000 square feet I carved out this year isn’t enough for the little business to really thrive. 10,000 square feet is a quarter acre, and that would be great, but I can’t necessarily get to that here. I might be able to carve out 2000 more feet, but first I’m going to figure out a way to get a small hoop house built (and hopefully a chicken coop and pen, too). Then perhaps I will lease an extra little bit of land somewhere else next year, and grow more flowers on it. All things to consider this fall!

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I did finally break down and buy a new camera, as my old one died and I’ve been borrowing from friends. I went with the cheapest DSLR I could buy and still get good quality—an older Canon Rebel T5—and I just took it out of the box yesterday.

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IMG_0145So of course the first pictures I took were of tomatoes and flowers–probably my two favorite things about the late summer garden. Fortunately, with our warm fall out here, I’ll have tomatoes and flowers until late October of even early November.

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IMG_0130But I hope I can find some good tomatoes and flowers to enter in the Fair, which is–yikes!–next week! I did say summer was flying by.

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And the last bittersweet sign of changing seasons: The President and First Family arrived for their vacation last weekend. It still thrills me to see the motorcade whiz by, and I will always be grateful that they’ve chosen to come here for their vacations. Now if they’d just stop at the farmstand…

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Building the Market Garden(s)

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This is very cool, I promise, and constitutes the best possible excuse for the delay (again!) in blog posts: We have plowed, tilled, composted, dug, fenced, planted, mulched, and irrigated 4500 square feet of market garden space in exactly two months. During that time, we’ve also harvested from the earliest plantings and even turned a few beds over. (And opened a little farmstand.) I say “we” because I’ve had help from all over in this endeavor, and I feel proud that I set this challenge for myself, made a plan, and then reached out for help at every step of the way.

If you’re interested in a brief overview of how it went, read the timeline below. But life is short, so if you’re like me and in a rush, just take a quick glimpse at the photos (which are a mixed bag, considering I’m still short a camera lens and using an old phone, too!), and you’ll get an idea of the progress.

And then, please come visit the farm stand if (or when) you’re on the Island. I’ll be open every day now, from about 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. (Self-serve.) Many folks don’t realize that I’m not at the old farm and that I’m starting up a new business, so I can use your kind word of mouth to let Islanders and visitors know of my new location. I still have mostly just greens (chard, kale, salad mix, etc.), but peas and squash (and much more) are coming.

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Directions: I’m in West Tisbury on State Road, on the left just past Island Farms Road (a little bit up the road from Vineyard Gardens) if you’re coming from Vineyard Haven. The property has a long stone wall along State Road and two driveways. Take the first driveway (if coming from VH) or the second (if coming from West Tis.). The farm stand is right behind the stone wall. You will see my chalkboard sign on the road. We don’t have a farm name yet, but you’ll see “Sixburnersue” on the farm stand!

The Timeline:

In early April, property owner Trip Barnes and I walked around and decided where the gardens would go. We chose three areas that had enough sunlight (LOTs of trees here) and that could be reached from a water source. There wasn’t just one area big enough for me, so we staked out three. All were covered with sod/grass, meaning they would need a lot of work to become garden beds. There was also a fourth, very small area, that had been a vegetable garden, which I immediately pounced on to get started since it didn’t need to be plowed.

We then set about finding a farmer who could come with a plow and turn the soil over in each of the three spots. (Farmers are pretty short on time in the springtime.)

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On April 24 and 25, farmer Andrew Woodruff of Whippoorwill Farm came out and plowed and tilled each garden area to break the sod apart and loosen the soil to a good depth. (Yay Andrew!)

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Andrew left me with two good-sized piles of compost, which I then shoveled over each garden area. Next I called my friend Jim Costello to come with his powerful rototiller and turn the soil once more. We then had soil that looked plantable. (Yay Jim!)

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The next and biggest challenge was fencing. I quickly erected some temporary fencing around the two smallest gardens so that I could get started on making beds and pathways. (And do things like get an asparagus bed started and onions in the ground!)

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Then I made my fencing plan. I wanted tall (7- to 8-foot) deer fencing around the two bigger gardens and medium-height fencing around the flower garden (the third area). And I wanted to double up on the bottom with 3-foot chicken wire buried 6 to 8 inches (rabbits and rodents).

Trying to balance time and budget (shipping heavy rolls of fencing and fence posts to the Island can get very expensive), I finally ordered the mesh fencing online from a reasonable source. (I measured about 16 times to make sure that the 330-foot rolls were going to do the trick.)

But I still needed to find 40 heavy duty fence posts—that I could afford and also manage to get in the ground. This took a while, but through another farmer friend, I found out that another farmer on the Island, Mitchell Posin, was the Island dealer for a fencing company.

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I talked to Mitch and we settled on 9-foot galvanized metal T posts. I would need to sink them 2 feet, so that would work with my 7.5-foot high deer fencing. Mitch put the order in and also told me that he’d be happy to give me some of his round wooden posts (9-footers) for the corners of my gardens. (Yay Mitch!)

The fence posts missed their first ride to the island but managed to hitch a ride in the back of Andy the Sheep Shearer’s truck the next week. (Andy comes from New Hampshire to the Island twice a year to shear most of the Island’s sheep and to do demonstrations as well.) I was sure glad to hear that he had arrived. We piled in Trip’s truck one foggy morning and ran up to Allen Sheep Farm to pick up the posts from Mitch.

Now I had posts and fencing, but I had to figure out how to build this fence (and include a gate for each garden). In the end, I wound up going back to Allen Sheep Farm and borrowing a tool called a T-post driver from Mitch. It’s a heavy metal sleeve, or tube, with handles, that you place over the stake. Then you pull (more like bang—it is very loud) the driver down on the stake several times until the stake is far enough in the ground.

Help came next from my next door neighbor, Lena (who used to have a horse farm), and a woman visiting from Canada named Elizabeth (who still lives on a horse farm). Both of these brave women helped me figure out how to get the heavy driver onto the heavy (tall) stake before raising it up, and each volunteered to hold the stake in place while I stood on the ladder and banged the darn thing in. It was exciting when the first post went in, and even more exciting when the 40th post went in—thanks to help from two more ladies, Terra, and Helen.

Helen is the young woman helping me out on the farm this summer, and I have nicknamed her Super Farm Chick, because she is one hard worker. Together we did the rest of the hard work to get those fences done. The most tedious part was digging the trench around each area to bury the chicken wire (another friend, Ann, joined us for the last of it). Actually hanging and zip-tieing the deer fencing and chicken wire went pretty smoothly. Helen and I got so good at this by the end that we decided we could hire ourselves out as fence builders (ha!). And we had fun with the fact that the fence was almost entirely built by women. (Yay girls!) (I wish I had photos of all this.)

I had wanted to do something fun for the garden gates—I had my eye on two old screen doors—but I had to improvise for the short term and make the gates (or doors) out of the fencing material, some dowels, and some bungee cords for closing. Not pretty, but functional.

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After the fencing was done, Helen and I got going on the serious planting. I had already (with help from a friend’s son, Oliver), dug the paths and raised beds for the first garden so that I could get all my greens in . (I grew a very successful crop of baby bok choy in this garden, and I was happy to sell some of it and some beautiful Japanese turnips to State Road Restaurant. I’ve been harvesting lettuce, kale, chard and spinach from that garden, too.)

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Oliver and I had also gotten the potatoes in the ground out in the biggest garden. (Yay Oliver!) I knew deer didn’t like potatoes so I wasn’t worried about planting them without the fence up. Interestingly, not long after the potatoes sprouted, we saw deer tracks right through the bed. So I knew I was doing the right thing in planning on tall fencing—especially for that garden, where the tomatoes would go.corner

But now Helen and I were staring at 75 tomato plants, 60 eggplants, 60 squash plants, 30 cuke seedlings, and untold numbers of flowers (about 300 maybe?) that needed to get in the ground. In my zeal, I had started everything (both under lights inside and in my little mini tunnel outside) about the same time I always start, not thinking about how delayed I’d be in getting everything in. So all my plants were leggy and busting out of their pots (and needing to be watered twice a day). To get those plants in, there would be more shoveling to make raised beds, a lot of weed mat barrier and plastic to staple down, stakes to pound in, and lots of drip hoses (a whole other story) to set up.

It sounds so easy to just “get the plants in the ground” but there are dozens of things that need to happen before that little hole is dug and the seedling popped out of its pot.

But now I am happy to say that as of this afternoon, it is pretty much all done.

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All but a couple random flats of seedlings (and some extra tomatoes, which have been moved to bigger pots for the farm stand) are in the ground. Weed mat barrier is down in every path in each garden. Drip hoses are down and the irrigation, though jury-rigged, is functioning. Sunflower and nasturtium and cilantro seeds planted around everywhere to attract the good bugs and bees.

Whew. Now we just have to go back to the first garden and do some weeding and thinning and turn some beds over. Bok choy out, yellow beans in.

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Ready, Set, Go: Put Yourself in the Way of Beauty

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I have been reading a little book by Cheryl Strayed called Brave Enough. It’s a collection of quotes. I like it. Them. Many of them. All of it.

But my favorite is this very simple thought: “Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

This is really just another way of saying do something joyful. But beauty is (in my view) a very specific kind of joy. It is sensual and tactile, visual and aromatic. Calming in its distraction.

For me, beauty is almost entirely owned by the natural world.

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So I have been doing this—putting myself in the way of beauty. On our foggy morning walks in the woods across the way, Farmer and I are deliberately pausing (he to sniff, granted) to watch the limey-green ferns seemingly unfurl before our eyes. Blueberry blossoms—at our feet on the wild scrubby plants that hug the foot path and up in the sky on decades-old highbush plants—are everywhere. I am noticing the little white clusters of flowers on the bare-branched shadbush and the soft pink apple blossoms on our way back down the driveway.

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DSC_0096On the wooden steps outside my back door, I have set up a little mini potted-plant garden of fresh herbs and annual flowers and things that smell good and look pretty. Lemon thyme and scented geraniums. Dwarf dahlias and pink dianthus. A little piece of beauty.DSC_0078

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Lilacs. A big, fragrant, fresh-picked bouquet from my friend Judy is now on my kitchen counter and everything is right with the world.

DSC_0089My biggest pleasure, though, is unpinning the fabric row cover over the greens I’ve planted in my new market garden. The baby kale and mizuna and ruby streaks mustard with their toothy leaves look like puzzle pieces nestled together.

DSC_0109 DSC_0111The new pea plants are sending tendrils out to grab on and start climbing.

DSC_0101The ruby chard I transplanted has settled in and taken off.

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These beautiful vegetables are gifts to me from my own hard-working self. Every year I have a fear that I am going to suddenly forget how to grow things. Or that all the inherent risks will conspire to prevent anything from growing. This year especially, when I didn’t know where I was going to be growing until a few months ago, I am so relieved and grateful to have this beauty to turn to. Sometimes I think I grow vegetables as much for their looks as their taste.

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Right now, with the help of friends and fellow farmers, I am building the pieces of my new little market gardening operation. It is exhilarating and exhausting and full of beauty. It is tempting to get fixated on making progress, on getting enough beds planted and the fencing done, to get to the point where there is enough to harvest and sell.

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But I realized this morning, during a beautiful, misty ride up to Allen Sheep Farm (the grey, the green, and then the unexpected blue of the sea) to pick up my fence posts, that what I like best about this whole thing is the process, not the destination.

Maybe today you can find three or fours ways to put yourself in the way of beauty. Ready, set, go.

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And So It Begins: The Curse of the Impatient Gardener’s DNA

DSC_0091DSC_0100There are grow-lights in my bedroom, a sack of soil in my living room, and a shovel next to my sofa. This week’s newspaper is spread across my kitchen counter, catching crumbs of soil as I make a colossal mess transplanting and dividing tiny seedlings.

Just getting inside my front door means tripping over a pile of garden tools.

It’s not pretty. But it is exciting. I can’t wait to start growing things again this spring, because gardening is stuck in my DNA like a tenacious weed in a sidewalk crack.

DSC_0083I am so much my father’s daughter that it is scary. Yesterday, I looked down at the spading fork in my hands and the craters of dirt all around my feet (and all over me), and I thought instantly of him. I intend to call him (though he will read this first) and tell him that it is all his fault, this passion I have.

As a little girl, I trailed around behind him in his gardens (I wasn’t actually any help), watching him bring to life the drawings he made first with pencil and paper. Brick walkways and courtyards, perennial borders, rose gardens, grass berms. Camellias, dogwoods, Japanese maples, London planetrees, boxwood, peonies, asters, blueberries, beefsteak tomatoes, pole beans, parsley, portulaca, pansies, phlox. Miscanthus Sinensis Gracillimus. Rudbeckia Fulgida “Goldsturm.” I loved the names as much as the plants.

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And then there were endless trips to the plant nursery and the hardware store. I wish I had been paying better attention–especially at the hardware store. I stood in one yesterday contemplating a wall of gizmos with which I had no earthly acquaintance, wishing my interpreter was by my side. But my five-year-old and ten-year-old self couldn’t have seen into the future, wouldn’t have known that the gardening gene would lie latent for years only to bust out half way through adulthood with a particularly grueling obsession—growing food. (Or that I might someday also have to tap into the carpentry gene.)

DSC_0115This will be my eighth year with a market garden. While I’m waiting for a tractor to turn over the soil in a new plot for me, I’ve been able to do a little work on a small plot so that I can get some peas and greens going. (Hence the indecision at the hardware store: I am working on fabricating a bunny-proof fence, with my limited carpentry skills.) While working outside, I found some forgotten strawberry seedlings, left behind by another gardener in an area soon to be tilled. I had to save them, of course, so I dug them and and potted them up–like my Dad would. He’s never been afraid to move plants around, and it didn’t feel like home unless a dozen or so potted plants were hanging around on our patio waiting to get in the ground.

One friend asked me if I thought I might get tired of gardening, if the work would get to be too much. I don’t know how to answer that, because it is like asking me if I will ever get tired of cooking. I am hard-wired to grow things and to cook—fortunately. I really am grateful for these compulsions, since I am not good at sitting still for long periods of time, and I don’t like to spend too much time listening to the voices in my head! In other words, getting outside is essential.

Now if it would only stop snowing or raining every five minutes. Dad, can you do something about that?

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Sunshine update: I wrote this last night, but today the sun is shining. Check! Also forgot to mention that my impatience really got the better of me at the plant nursery the other day and I wound up buying just a few little seedling starts so I’d have something in a pot on my deck. Instant gratification. Happy.

 

 

 

 

A New Chapter for Sixburnersue

DSC_0071Dear Sixburnersue Readers,

This is a long overdue thank you note, of sorts. A thank you for being patient while I let blog posts go (mostly) by the way side over the last six months.

I have turned my book manuscript in, we have finished shooting all the photos, and now the book is in the hands of the talented editors and designers at Roost. I think it is going to be my best book yet! Still, we will have to wait a whole year before it is designed, printed, and published next spring.

It means though, that I can no longer use the book work as an excuse for not blogging. It means I have to be honest with you and tell you that there was, in fact, another reason for the temporary suspension of sixburnersue. Last fall, my partner Roy and I ended both our personal and business relationship. We retired the “Green Island Farm” name, and after debating who would stay on the farm property, I made a decision to move in December. (Though I am fortunately still in West Tisbury, and of course still on Martha’s Vineyard—no way I’m leaving this island!) Roy and the chickens are still at the old place.

Having written so much about our life on the farm, I felt I owed it to you to tell you this news, but it wasn’t (isn’t) something that I honestly want to dwell on in a blog that began—and hopefully will continue—as an expression of my joy in cooking and growing vegetables. Someday I will settle back into one of the many approaches I’ve taken to writing a memoir, and I will have yet another lens to look through! Life continues to surprise and challenge me, and some days (you all know this feeling), it seems to be nothing short of a Herculean effort to make it all work. But somehow, regardless of whether I fail or succeed, I’m always compelled to move forward, to keep trying, and especially, to keep doing what I love. Here’s the geeky truth: My high school motto plays an endless loop in my head. The Latin is “Inveniam viam aut faciam.” The English translation is “I shall find a way or make one.”

In that spirit, I have set to work finding a new piece of land on which to grow vegetables and flowers (and restart a small market business), and I hope to have good news to report on that very soon. In December, I also began working part-time at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, so I get to spend part of my days in the company of books and book lovers. I’m continuing to write a regular food column for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and working on new features for Vegetarian Times. Patching together a living is a time-honored tradition here on Martha’s Vineyard, where more traditional jobs are scarce, so I am not alone in this endeavor. It might be less scary and more lucrative (well, definitely more lucrative!) if I chose another route, but it wouldn’t be as challenging or creative or ultimately as satisfying.

So I thank you again for hanging in there, and now we will get back to our regular programming!

Susie

 

 

What One Vegetarian Really Eats (and Cooks)

DSC_0189A year ago this January, I hopped a very short fence. I went from eating not a lot of meat, to eating no meat at all. Technically, I became a vegetarian, though I have eaten the occasional fish or shellfish when it has been offered to me.

Now that I am in the thick of writing and editing the text and recipes for my vegetarian cookbook (which will come out in Spring 2017 from Roost Books), I am thinking hard about strategies and tips for readers. But I am also thinking about what fun I have had developing the recipes—how the creative challenge for this book has been the best yet, because it is has essentially given me a blueprint for eating.

I can’t wait (though I must—and, ahem, I must also finish the manuscript, complete the last photo shoot, and a list of other things…before it even gets to my editor!) for the book to come out so that I can cook from my own recipes every night. And sadly, I won’t be able to share any of those recipes with you until we get close to publication.

But I thought for those of you who are contemplating a shift, it might be interesting to share with you what one vegetarian really eats. (And I say really or actually, because this is not theoretical. Since I, like most year-round Islanders, cook the vast majority of my food at home, this is truly what I eat.) Remember, I’m not a nutritionist—my gig is cooking technique—and I’m only one person, so take it for what it is.

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I will say, though, that cooking vegetarian truly is a blast (if you like to cook), because the creative possibilities are endless. I never come at it from the “what can I replace the meat with” (in fact, I’m not big on meat-replacement type proteins); I always come at it from the “how I can turn these vegetables into a delicious, filling meal?”

Here are some of the things I eat and cook with on a regular basis (in addition to the obvious—vegetables!):

DSC_0197Nuts. Toasted. Toasted nuts have an almost cocoa-like umami thing going on, so they taste delicious and are very filling. Almonds are at the top of my list, with pecans and walnuts next. I stock pine nuts, hazelnuts, and, of course, peanuts and natural peanut butter. (Pepitas, too, which are seeds, not nuts.) I use nuts not just in salads, but in grain and bean dishes, too.

Chickpeas. Sheepishly, I have to admit that, like a lot of vegetarian converts, I have fallen totally in love with chickpeas. (I’m simmering a pot on the stove right now on this first snowy day in January, though I stock canned chickpeas, too.). In addition to the great flavor and rich texture, chickpeas have a distinct advantage over most other beans and legumes—they hold up well in all kinds of cooking. In fact, you can even brown them by sautéing or roasting; and as you know, I love browning because that means caramelization and extra flavor!

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Lentils. While I eat all beans (always soaked first before cooking, or canned), I’ve become more of a fan of lentils in the last year. For one thing, they cook very quickly—in less than 20 minutes in many cases. Secondly, you can now find black Beluga lentils and small French green (DuPuy) lentils in many more grocery stores, and I find the firmer texture of these more pleasing than that of the larger common brown lentils. Red lentils are also quick and delicious in soups and porridge-like dishes. And all lentils have assertive flavors that go well in soups, salads and sautés.

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DSC_0186Avocados. Yes, I know we think of avocadoes as a vegetable, but they are really something unto themselves (and technically a fruit), and I have to mention them because they have that uniquely rich and filling thing going on (good fat, don’t you know?). And, I eat a lot of them. On toast, in salads, with tortillas, in egg sandwiches. Alone with lemon and olive oil and salt. With chickpeas! And nuts!

Grains. I’ve always been a fan of grains, but I like them and use them even more now that I’ve figured out I can cook them ahead and hold them in the fridge or freezer, and that I can use them sometimes almost like a condiment, or as one of many ingredients in a dish. Sitting down to a big bowl of grains can get monotonous. Putting some grains in a salad, a soup, a taco, whatever, is much more interesting. My favorites are wheat berries, farro, short grain brown rice, and oats (granola for breakfast!) but I stock lots of (gluten-free) quinoa, as well as millet and many different kinds of rice.

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Eggs. I’m not vegan or dairy-free, so I still turn to eggs for some of my protein. (That may change at some point, but for now, I’m an egg eater.) The best thing about an egg (like a lot of these ingredients that play well with others) is that you can add one to just about anything. Sure, you can make a meal just on eggs, but you can also add an egg to a grain or bean dish, a broth or a sauté.

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Those are the things that I most often pair with vegetables to make my meals. (Remember, vegetables have protein, too.) I do eat pasta and bread , too, though I choose whole-grain when I can. And again, I often use these carbs in smaller amounts rather than in starring roles. But there’s nothing like a great piece of artisan multi-grain toast for transporting any number of veggie toppings to a great destination.

As for the vegetables themselves, I eat leafy greens every day. They are the easiest, quickest, and most flavorful vegetables to make a meal with. (The arugula in this picture was taken from plants still growing under hoops outside.) Alliums of all kinds (onions, shallots, garlic, scallions) make their way into almost everything I cook, and my fanaticism for tomatoes extends to this time of year with roasted tomatoes in the freezer and sundried tomatoes in the fridge. This time of year I also gravitate towards colorful root and winter vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Along with the aromatic ingredients I always keep around—citrus, fresh ginger, vinegars, hot sauces, spices, maple syrup and honey, miso, tahini, tamari, parmesan cheese—and any fresh herbs I can procure (my rosemary pot is indoors, still alive, for now!), I eat well.

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Happy eating and cooking to you, too, in this new year. And don’t forget the daily chocolate imperative. (My little bowl of chips, always by my side!)

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